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Leslie Fernandes rakes up ‘Recognition’ Issue (10/7/2007)
--K. Arumugam
Ever since national hockey coach Joaquim Carvalho rekindled the issue of recognition of winning sportspersons, the issue is cropping up here and there, though not in a manner of wild fire. From the Indian Olympic Association to Indian Archery Federation are all letting us know how achievements of their disciplines are also unrecognized.

Now it is the turn of Leslie Fernandes, goalkeeper of the 1975 World Cup team.

“You are all concerned about Asia Cup winners getting short shrift. But does this country knows our plight?” Leslie fumed in a television show. “In 1996, the government of India announced life time free train facilities to all Olympic medalists, but missed us (Kuala Lumpur winners). Almost nine out of the KL 16 could get it on account of being Olympic medalist. So only seven players were left out out of which two had already died. We the rest five players are asking for the same privilege with government of India, Indian Railways for about ten years, still no one listens to us”.

And he adds, “You see, am a Railway man and this train pass is not going to make much of difference to me, but only a question of our pride. Even after 30 years we are yet to win a World Cup, not able to reach even the semis, remember”

In fact, medalists of not only Olympics, but also Asian Games and Commonwealth Games are also getting such passes. Therefore, the omission of World Cup winners certainly need to be rectified. But, in India bureaucratic errors are never corrected, as they seem to have a divine power to do and live happily also!

On the Friday night Loksabha Television beamed a panel discussion on hockey, ‘Hockey ka Haq’ the gist of which will appear under MediaWatch of this site shortly. Triple Olympian Harbinder Singh, former international player Anurag Raghuvanshi, former Junior National coach Harender Singh participated, while current Junior India coach Ajay Kumar Bansal and senior player Dilip Tirkey’s views were also sought thro’ phone-in.

The players who feel hurt in not getting their due include Brigadier HJS Chimni, Coorg’s P.E. Kaliah, Chennai’s Leslie Fernandes and Asok Diwan of New Delhi. The last mentioned also works in Railways and holds a pass.

It is interesting to note here that most of these players tried to meet Railways minister this year March in New Delhi, exactly on the anniversary of KL World Cup.

However, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav refused to meet them at his residence in New Delhi. It was a moment of utter despair for these stalwarts. The players had intended to meet the Minister with a request to press for the complementary railway passes. Those present that day were Leslie Fernandez, Brig. H JS Chimi, Ashok Dewan. P E Kalaiah and Omkar Singh.

It may be recalled that a decade ago, the Government of India had declared that all sportsmen of the country who won medals in the 21 Olympic disciplines in international events would be given complimentary rail passes. But, five players from the hockey team have so far not got the passes.

Note: This author remembers Fernandez taking up the issue with the then Sports Minister late Sunil Dutt, when he came to the Vivek Singh Charity Match in 2004 in New Delhi. I personally brought the issue to the knowledge of some of the journalists too.

Image: India's 1975 World Cup winning team.

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