That China never let go even a single medal-winning opportunity at the just concluded Asian Games is no secret. They successfully lobbied for the inclusion of popular Chinese sports like Weiqi and Xianqqi in the 16th edition of the Games. They even denied entry to a strong Indian equestrian team to help the Chinese riders.
But as strange as this may sound, the same Chinese authorities 'sponsored' a weak Indian women's water polo team that competed in the quadrennial event. The China Waterpolo Association worked overtime to ensure that the Indian eves arrived in Guangzhou in time for the competition. Their travel documents were processed with due diligence even as some of the Indian journalists waited for months to get the visa approval. It spent around Rs 6 lakh for the 15-member contingent's air travel. Besides, the players were provided accommodation at the Games Village.
Why did China take such a huge interest in the participation of an Indian team? Reason: They got one more gold medal from an event which was on the verge of becoming a non-medal sport. Women's water polo, which made its debut in Guangzhou, had attracted only three entries. So the presence of a fourth team became inevitable to be counted as a medal event. At this juncture, CSA requested the Swimming Federation of India (SFI) to send the Indian team.
China spent a lot of energy and money to get India's participation. They got the reward in the gold medal, a top official from Asia Swimming Federation told TOI on condition of anonymity. Fancied China clinched the gold, demolishing the other three opponents. Kazakhstan took home the silver while Uzbekistan claimed bronze.
The Indian eves, as expected, cut a sorry figure, finishing at the bottom of the table. They conceded 96 goals in three matches -- a whopping average of 32 goals per match -- while managing to score only six goals. China and Kazakhstan fired 38 goals each against India while Uzbekistan pumped in 20.
Back home, swimming observers raised a hue and cry over the team's pathetic show. But SFI general secretary Virendra Nanavati remains unfazed and defends the federation's decision to send the team. "CSA had offered an all-expenses paid trip for our women's team. Had we not sent our team, waterpolo's future at the Games would have been in jeopardy," he told TOI.
"We had picked the team for the Commonwealth Waterpolo Championship scheduled to be held in the first week of November in Chennai. Unfortunately, it was cancelled following the withdrawal of Canada, England and New Zealand. We had the team ready at our disposal. When we got the request from our Chinese counterpart, we decided to send them immediately," he added. "We wanted water polo to remain as an event at the Asian Games. The OCA may be tempted to drop the event in the next edition citing lesser number of entries."
Nanavati also said the federation did not take a single penny from the players. "It's an all-expenses paid trip. Then why should we take money from the players?" he asked.
On the composition of the team, Nanavati said all the national campers, who had a passport when the invite came, were allowed to go to China. "It is not true that players from Police were denied the opportunity. Two Police players were there in the camp, and only one had a passport," he added.