The Indian team's participation in the upcoming Sultan Azlan Shah tournament was today thrown into confusion after Hockey India claimed to have pulled out of the event, citing Sports Authority of India's refusal to bear the team's travel expenditure.
However, after the news broke out, the Sports Ministry said that it has directed SAI to allocate the required funds to meet the air ticket expenses of the team considering the prestige attached to the tournament.
The Ministry's directive to SAI paves the way for India's participation, though Hockey India, which announced its withdrawal through an official press release, has not yet made any statement on the development.
When contacted for their reaction, a Hockey India official said that they will take a decision soon, allowing the confusion to prevail.
Earlier, soon after Hockey India decided to pull out of the event to be held in Ipoh, Malaysia, from March 9-17, Sports Secretary P K Deb stepped in to resolve the issue.
"The Sports Ministry has asked SAI to release the funds. We stepped in because Azlan Shah is a very important tournament and we don't want to deprive our players a chance to participate in such a prestigious tournament," Sports Secretary P K Deb told PTI.
"India have always figured in the previous editions of the tournament and the Sports Ministry made the exception this time keeping in mind the players' interest," he added.
Deb, however, asked Hockey India to exercise fiscal restrain in future.
"One thing I would like to make it clear is that HI needs to be more cautious and disciplined in spending money which has been allocated to them by SAI.
"The allocation for the year was 5.94 crore and it (HI) spent 11.27 crore, more than double the allocation. This allocation of 5.94 crore was decided after discussion with HI. So at some point of time they need to be told to become more careful while spending the money", he said.
"SAI must have told them about this spending of money. This time we have made the exception but not always," Deb said.
Earlier in the day, HI decided to withdraw from the tournament, claiming that SAI had refused to fund the team's air travel for the event.
"Hockey India has been forced to withdraw the participation of its Senior National Men team from the 22nd Sultan Azlan Shah Cup Hockey Tournament to be played at Ipoh in Malaysia from 9-17 March 2013," HI said in a statement.
"In the sanction given by Sports Authority of India to Hockey India regarding the men's team participation, it is mentioned that the team will play this tournament at no cost to government.
HI said the only obligation to the government for this tour was to cover airfare cost of the team but in the sanction given by SAI, it was clearly mentioned that government will not cover any cost.
"Therefore Hockey India has been forced to withdraw its participation from the tournament. Government has always covered the airfare of the team for this tournament till date," the statement said.
India, who won the Azlan Shah Cup five times (1985, 1991, 1995, 2009, 2010), were the bronze medallist in the last edition of the tournament.
Keeping in mind the FIH Junior World Cup, to be held in the country later this year, India had opted to field a young, new-look squad under Danish Mujataba for this year's Azlan Shah Cup.
Apart from India, the other participating nations in the tournament are arch-rivals Pakistan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and hosts Malaysia.