Around 70 Indian athletes of five unrecognised sporting disciplines today heaved a sigh of relief as the government cleared them to take part in the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, to be held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
The Government though approved their participation for the September 17-27 multi-sporting event at the eleventh hour today, it warned the Federations -- traditional and belt wrestling, kurash, jujitsu, dancesport and sambo -- not succumb to "emotional blackmail" in future.
These 70 athletes, who are to take part in the event, had to cancel their flights yesterday after the government initially refused to give them clearance on the ground that these disciplines are neither recognised by it nor by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
But with less than three days to the opening of the Games, the government finally gave the go ahead for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, considered as the second most important multi-sporting event in the continent.
The IOA has already entered their names for the event, where more than 200 athletes will represent India.
"We met the representatives of the five federations and have given them a go ahead for the Games. But we have clearly told them that in future, we will clear only recognised sports," a Sports Ministry official told PTI on condition of anonymity.
"We have done it as goodwill gesture this time but we are clear that we will not send such teams in future. The delegation was getting bigger and these are unrecognised sports, so we did not clear their names initially."
More than 6000 athletes and officials will take part in the 12-day tournament, which will feature 21 sports with just four of those part of the Olympics programme.
Asked what made ministry change its mind, the official said, "They said it's not their fault but IOA's. They said 'we booked tickets and the players have also prepared for the event', so we agreed. But this emotional blackmail will not be considered in future."
The unrecognised sports are paying for their bills so they are going at no cost to the government. However, the ministry said it will also not be acceptable in future.
"With this logic anyone can go who can arrange money. But who will be responsible for them. They are going out as Indian teams. It is not acceptable to the ministry.
"The IOA has also been told sternly that they should not come to us at last minute. It has been conveyed that they will have to give us names, rankings, stature of events in advance," the official said.
The IOA, on the other hand, put the blame on the sports ministry, saying that the government's initial refusal was tantamount to infringing the autonomy of the the IOA and the national sports bodies, which could attract action from the IOC or the OCA.
According to IOA sources, the government had wanted a guarantee from the national sports apex body that it would be responsible for these athletes during the Games but it refused to do so.
"We (IOA) are not a body which is existing to give guarantee (for the athletes) on the desire of the government, we follow Olympic Charter and IOC rules and guidelines. The Asian Indoor Games is an event held under the aegis of the Olympic Council of Asia which is our parent Asian body," a top IOA official told PTI on condition of anonymity.
"What the sports ministry had done (by refusing to give clearance initially) was violation of the autonomy of a National Olympic Committee, which may attract action from either the OCA or the IOC. It is good that better sense has prevailed and the players have been cleared."
IOA insisted that even though these federations are not recognised by the IOA or the government, they are recognised by their international parent bodies, which in turn are recognised by the OCA.
"Moreover, these players are taking part in the event on their own, at no cost to the government. There is also a circular of the Sports Ministry issued in 2014 that national sports bodies which want to send athletes on their own may be cleared by the government," the IOA official added.
The flight bookings of the players were done with the Turkmenistan national carrier, which is one of the sponsors of the Asian Indoor Games, and the airlines agreed to re- scheduled their flights for tomorrow without any penalty.
Otherwise, the five federations would have lost around Rs. 21 lakh, which was the cost of the tickets of these 70 athletes.
There were frenetic meeting between the officials of these five sports and the sport ministry officials in the past two days on the issue. Some officials of these five sports had even met the new sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
"It is a relief for us now. We have been running around the past few days. Our players are going for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games at no cost to the government and we are footing our own bill," an official from Ju-Jitsu Association of India said.