Panaji: Football fever is running high and the BJP government in Goa has scripted a controversy by sanctioning a Rs 90 lakh junket for six MLAs, including the sports minister, to Brazil, where the FIFA World Cup began on Thursday night. It has been pegged as a "study tour."
The Congress has alleged that Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is misusing public funds and has demanded that the trip be scrapped. "Yesterday Narendra Modi spoke in Parliament about sanitation, house, water for poor people and today his own government in Goa is investing 89 lakhs so that his MLAs can go and watch a football match," said the party's Rashid Alvi.
A livid Goa Congress leader Durgadas Kamat called it an "utter loot of the state treasury."
Sources in the Goa government argued that the trip is a "study tour" for politicians of a state that regularly holds sporting events. They pointed out that no bureaucrats were being sent. Only politicians who "bring the vision."
"The decision has been taken in the interest of Goa, football is our state sport. Some MLAs on the team are ex-footballers," explained Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.
The delegation has no sportsman or anyone connected with football either, though the tiny state has given India some of its leading national football stars. Two of Goa's former footballers, Bruno Coutinho, and Brahmanand Shankhwalkar, both Arjuna award winners, had reportedly asked if they could be sent to Brazil to watch the tournament.
Bruno Coutinho a former India captain, said, "I am hurt, if MLAs can go, why not a sportsman. I am not just any footballer, am an Arjuna Awardee. I have captained the Indian football team."
Sources said Mr Coutinho's name was on an initial list for the trip but was dropped.
Apart from Goa sports minister Ramesh Tawadkar, two other ministers and three MLAs will now watch matches to be held at the end of this month.
The final of the tournament will be played in Rio on July 13. India is ranked a poor 154 in world football, but lakhs of fans eagerly await the World Cup held every four years. The first match was played between Brazil and Croatia. (Special World Cup Site)