Queen without money

K. R. DEEPAK

Ever since Bank of Baroda removed her as its brand ambassador, Koneru Humpy, the World No. 2 in women's chess, has been facing rough weather on the sponsorship front.

The `queen' has been checkmated by fate. Though ranked World No. 2 in women's chess, Koneru Humpy is now staring at an uncertain future. Only recently, she participated in the World Cup on her own with no sponsor showing any interest to back her. "We had to run around a lot and finally had the consolation of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) taking care of the travel expenses," she said.

Ever since Bank of Baroda removed her as its brand ambassador — this coincided with the Bank signing the contract with Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid — Humpy has been facing rough weather on the sponsorship front. Despite the best efforts of her father, who even started sending personal letters to corporate houses seeking financial support, there is still nothing for her to smile about. Humpy's father-cum-coach Koneru Ashok is worried that they have slipped into this crisis at the most crucial phase of his daughter's career. "We never thought we would be facing such a situation," said Ashok.

Ashok preferred to stay at home in Vijayawada instead of accompanying Humpy to the recent National Chess Championship in Vizag; this decision of his was termed as an indication of his growing despair. A visibly tense Humpy says that the next 12 months could be the most crucial as she continues her journey in the world of chess to be the `queen'.

However, there is some hope as G. Kamala Vardhana Rao, VC & MD of Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP), stressed that though it may not be possible to release a financial assistance of about Rs. 30 to 40 lakhs at one stretch, the Government will definitely consider a piece-meal strategy, like taking care of Humpy's travel and board during foreign tournaments, to help her.

But there is no guarantee that even this assistance will materialise in view of the quickly changing priorities of the SAAP, where many senior officials feel that chess players should not be given any support. It appears that Humpy's career is at the crossroads and the enormous mental pressure caused by the financial shortfall might well hamper her growth. If this happens, it would be one of the saddest chapters of Indian sport.

V. V. Subrahmanyam