Not given official blazers by IOA, say bridge medal winners
Kolkata : Pranab Bardhan and Shibhnath De Sarkar, who bagged gold in the men's pair bridge competition at the 18th Asian Games, are among the squad members who have not been provided Team India blazers by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for attending Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reception for medallists in New Delhi on Wednesday.
The team's non-playing captain and coach Debasish Ray, who has not been invited to the gala function, told reporters that they received step-motherly treatment from the IOA, who at first were reluctant to send a team to the Games.
"We have not been provided blazers with India's logo for the Prime Minister's reception ceremony. I am not even invited," Ray said on the sidelines of the Calcutta Sports Journalists' Club felicitation ceremony here.
Ray said the medal-winning members are planning to stitch IOA logos in their old blazers so that they are "eligible" for the official photo-op.
"We plan to stitch the IOA logo on our own blazers and attend the function. We are left with no other option," Ray added.
The IOA had initially refused to clear the Indian contingent for the Games. It was after HCL chief Shiv Nadar had intervened that they got the green signal, Ray added.
The HCL International Bridge Championship is the largest competition of the little known sport in the world.
The IOA had at first refused to provide clothes including ceremonial wear - Team India blazers during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies - and training and in-competition kits for the eight federations not affiliated to the governing body.
Later, the Sports Ministry had to intervene and entail the cost of kits and uniforms of the Asian Games-bound athletes.
Besides Bardhan and Sarkar, Bengal's Sumit Mukherjee and Debabrata Majumder, who were part of the six-member men's team which bagged bronze, were also present.
The mixed team also clinched bronze to cap a brilliant debut for the sport at the Games.
Ray, a former India international, who was also entrusted with the job of selecting the national team by the Bridge Federation of India (BFI), lamented the lack of infrastructure for the sport in West Bengal and urged the state government to provide places where they can practice together ahead of selection trials for tournaments.
"We have no big demands. We just want a common place to practice the game as all of us don't stay nearby and it gets difficult at times."
The Bengal Bridge Association, in April, struggled to find a venue for a national tournament after the state government cancelled permission for Khudiram Anushilan Kendra for panchayat elections, Ray recalled.
"We were allotted Biswa Bangla Convention Centre in New Town for which we had to play a hefty Rs 7-8 lakh," Ray said, underlining their plea for a permanent venue.
Bardhan, 60, who is a builder by profession, and his 56-year old partner Dey Sarkar, who teaches at Jadavpur University, garnered 384 points to see off China's Lixin Yang and Gang Chen (378 points) in the five-round competition to finish on top.
Bardhan also became the oldest Indian to win an Asian Games gold medal.
"I urge schools to include bridge in their curriculum. People have a conception that this is gambling. It's absolutely false. While going to Indonesia, I was asked by the immigration officer why I am going to play cards? He doubted me. Only after I explained did he understand," Bardhan said.