Melbourne Soccer Heroes Cry Humiliation, Return Cheques to AIFF


Kolkata, Aug 5: Hurt and humiliated at a meagre grant of Rs.25,000 to each of them, the nine surviving members of India's 1956 Melbourne Olympics football squad that finished fourth in the quadrennial extravaganza, have decided to return the cheques to the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

"We, nine Olympians of the 1956 team, are very much shocked. We regret the way you have sent cheques of Rs.25,000 as grant from your executive committee. We are returning the cheques to you," Melbourne squad skipper Samar ('Badru') Banerjee said in a letter to AIFF secretary Alberto Colaco.

Banerjee said during a meeting with Colaco in Delhi in February, he had requested him to start a pension scheme for Olympians on the lines of the one introduced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for former national cricketers.

He had then asked Colaco, "How do you expect that Olympians like us, who have crossed 70, will come before you and beg?"

Banerjee said he had made a number of phone calls to the AIFF secretary between February and July, reminding him about his proposal for a pension scheme.

"It's very unfortunate. I did not ask for any grant from you. We have played for the country with our heads held high. We can't accept anything which undermines our prestige and self-respect," Banerjee told reporters at the Calcutta Sports Journalists' Club here.

Tulsidas Balaram, another legendary player and Melbourne squad member, said: "This cheque has hurt us. Without holding discussions with us, the AIFF sent them. Do they think that we are beggars?"

Asked about their next course of action, Balaram said as a first step they wanted the media to highlight the humiliation meted out to them. "We will see how the AIFF reacts. And then, if needed, we will approach the union sports ministry."

An emotional Balaram said the Melbourne show had made India a name to reckon with in international soccer. "We were rated as one of the top teams of the world. Then FIFA president Stanly Ross came to our dressing room after the match and congratulated us."

"He was surprised that a team which played barefoot four years back could play so well with the boots on. He inspected the boots of some of us."

Balaram said the slide in the Indian soccer standards now pained him a lot.

"This is the reason I don't talk to anyone on Indian football. We did so well in Melbourne. We became the number one Asian team at Jakarta in 1962. But where are we now? Whenever I think of this, I have tears in my eyes."

Asked why the current crop of players was not being able to deliver despite getting a substantial amount of money, he shot back: "Don't blame the players. It's the clubs which are responsible."

Another member of the side, Nikhil Nandy, was also present at the media meet.


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Title: Melbourne Soccer Heroes Cry Humiliation, Return Cheques to AIFF

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