Bhutia gets little support

Baichung Bhutia's decision to boycott the Olympic torch relay has taken the Indian sports fraternity completely by surprise, with most of them saying on Tuesday that the Indian football captain should not have mixed politics with sports.

Bhutia's move due to sympathy for the Tibetans opposing the Chinese oppression has not impressed former 400m runner Milkha Singh, who will be a part of the torch relay to be held in New Delhi on April 17. "I feel that sports and politics should not be mixed," Milkha said.

Also disagreeing with Bhutia were former Davis Cup captain Jaideep Mukherjea, swimmer Bula Chaudhary and former national football player PK Banerjee, who said he would participate in the event despite ill-health. "It's a matter of pride for me that the IOA has invited me for the relay. I'll definitely take part," Banerjee said. "I've got partial paralysis. So, I can't run the total distance. But I can run for at least 100-150m. I shall definitely be in Delhi on April 17 and take part," he added.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has made it clear that it would not persuade Bhutia to reconsider his pull-out, saying it respects the national soccer skipper's "personal decision". IOA president Suresh Kalmadi said from London that there was no point in asking Bhutia to reconsider because the athlete had already made his decision.

But, in the middle of all the disagreements and words of advice, former Olympian Chuni Goswami came out strongly in support of Bhutia. "Baichung has done a great job. He feels for the Tibetans who have been oppressed and persecuted. And he feels all the more about the issue, as he is a Sikkimese and a Buddhist himself," he said.

"I also do not subscribe to the view that sportspersons should not get involved in such political issues. Politics is a part of life, and you can't ignore it."

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