Rahul Gandhi on Monday took a sharp swipe at the Haryana government over claims it has yet to pay athletes from the state – including those who won medals at the Tokyo Olympics – cash rewards promised for medals won at other competitive meets – such as the 2018 Asian Games.
Mr Gandhi also hit out at political leaders rushing to be seen in video calls congratulating the athletes – seen by many as a reference to Prime Minister Modi, whose video conferences with the medal winners were widely covered by the media.
“Players should get their dues with the congratulations… not cuts in the sports budgets,” he wrote on Instagram, adding, “Enough with the video calls… now hand out the reward amounts!”
Attached to Mr Gandhi’s post were screenshots of tweets made in 2019 by Tokyo heroes Neeraj Chopra – who won India’s first ever gold medal for a track-and-field event – and Bajrang Punia, a six-time gold medal-winner who claimed his first Olympic medal – a bronze.
Also attached to Rahul Gandhi’s Instagram post was the cut-out of a July 2021 article by The Times of India – titled “4 years on, Haryana Olympians await cash rewards”.
The article quoted the relatives of other athletes – including those who went to Tokyo as medal hopes – as saying that lakhs in promised cash rewards remained unpaid.
On June 26, 2019, Bajrang Punia had tweeted: “When you promise rewards to the players, then you promise to support the players, not the greed of money, but the players. If you can’t fulfill your promise then what should any player expect from you in future!”
The tweet – in which Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar and Home Minister Anil Vij were tagged – contained a screenshot of a 2018 tweet by Mr Vij that promised Rs 3 crore as cash reward for Mr Punia for winning gold at the Asian Games that year.
Mr Punia had beaten Daichi Takatani of Japan in the final of the men’s freestyle wrestling (65 kg).
जब खिलाड़ीयो को आप पुरस्कार का वायदे करते है तब ऊन खिलाड़ीयो को आप ने पैसे का लालच नहीं बल्कि खिलाड़ियों का साथ देने का वायदा करते हैं । अगर आप अपने किये वायदे को पूरा नहीं कर सकते तो फिर भविष्य मे कोई भी खिलाड़ी आप से किस बात की उम्मीद रखें!@anilvijminister @mlkhattarpic.twitter.com/CxX7JK9Ez1
— Bajrang Punia 🇮🇳 (@BajrangPunia) June 26, 2019
Hours later Neeraj Chopra retweeted that message, adding: “Sir, when we come after winning medals, the whole country is happy… and you proudly say we are from Haryana. The sportspersons of Haryana have left their mark in the world of sports… Let this persevere.”
“And please fulfill what you promised to give prize money to the players so that we can divert our attention from these things and focus our full attention on the upcoming Olympic Games and can illuminate the name of our country and state,” he also tweeted.
ओर आपने जो खिलाड़ियों को इनाम राशि देने का वादा किया था कृपया उसे पूरा करे ताकि हम इन चीज़ों से ध्यान हटा के अपना पूरा focus आने वाले Olympic खेलो पर लगा सके ओर अपने देश व राज्य का नाम रोशन कर सके 🙏
— Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) June 26, 2019
Mr Chopra won gold in the men’s javelin throw at the same event – setting a new National Record and claiming India’s first Asian Games gold in that sport.
The criticism comes as state governments, including those like Punjab, where Mr Gandhi’s Congress is in power, announce massive cash prizes for athletes winning (and competing) in the Olympics.
Neeraj Chopra, who won gold at the men’s javelin throw in Tokyo, has been promised Rs 6 crore by the Haryana government.
The state has also promised Bajrang Punia, who won bronze in the men’s wrestling event, Rs 2.5 crore. Members of the men’s bronze-winning hockey team who are from Haryana have been promised a similar cash reward.
However, news of the cash rewards has been met with scepticism by some, who have not only pointed to the fact that these same athletes have yet to receive promised rewards for earlier triumphs, but also that their medal wins come despite the union budget’s cut in sports funding.
In February the government announced a Rs 230.78 crore cut in the country’s sports budget – which many, since the athlete’s exploits in Tokyo, have pointed out was in an Olympic year.
The government had said this was due to “hardly any activity” because of the lockdown.