Will focus shift to other sporting bodies?

Will focus shift to other sporting bodies?

The landmark order of the Supreme Court, initiating sweeping changes in the structure of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), has set the cat among the pigeons. And, sports administrators, athletes of all hues, fans and Public Interest Litigation specialists have all been tickled into various stages of thought.

There can be little doubt that there has been some judicial overreach in the BCCI case. For example, asking officials to vacate office and take a cooling off period after just three years sounds irrational and illogical. Yet, it is only fair to expect the Justice R M Lodha Committee recommendations would extend such reforms to all other National Sports Federations (NSF).

After all, most NSFs depend on government dole, especially when it comes to supporting elite athletes in their preparation for continental and world events. Yet, backed by the Indian Olympic Association, they have sought to stay free of governmental regulation by taking refuge under the Olympic Charter and its stress on autonomy of sports organisations.

From 1975, when guidelines on tenure were first enforced on NSFs, IOA and NSFs have resisted the government’s attempts to regulate them. The biggest push came through the National Sports Development Code 2011. Despite that, most NSFs have chosen to ignore its provisions and continued to have the cake and eat it too.

In an order pronounced on May 9, 2014, the Delhi High Court said the Central government can insist that NSFs adhere to the provisions of the National Sports Code 2010 without the aid of legislation. Yet, the ministry has rarely invoked this high court order to make the erring federations fall in line and has only indulged in some sabre-rattling every now and then.

Of course, the ministry has stepped in – more as an exception than as a rule – to impose sanctions on some federations like in the case of Hockey India and Badminton Association of India in 2010, Archery Association of India and Gymnastics Federation of India in 2012, Indian Amateur Boxing Federation in 2014, Paralympic Committee of India and All India Tennis Association in 2015.

Yet, it is curious that though more than four decades have lapsed since the time the first set of guidelines were issued, the ministry has not made a serious enough attempt to enact a legislation that will make the NSFs fall in line. It is not as if the government is unaware of the importance of such legislation.

The Draft Comprehensive Sports Policy 2007, which includes a provision for the establishment of a Sports Regulatory Authority, and the Draft National Sports Development Bill 2013, have remained on paper. Neither of them, well-intentioned and quite comprehensive, has seen the light of the day. The reason is not far to seek: a lack of political will.

It is such apathy that has kept sports in the State List rather than Concurrent List in the constitution. Worse, except in extreme circumstances, the existing regulations have been kept in abeyance by way of executive instructions. The political and bureaucratic leadership has nearly always made the MYAS come across as weak.

Annual recognition

Take for example the January 2 note from the ministry to the Sports Authority of India. It notes that 48 NSFs have been recognised, though only seven have fully complied with the instructions on suo motu disclosure of required information. The non-compliant NSFs have been given time until March 31 to ‘do the needful’, failing which their annual recognition would be ‘reviewed’.

Instead of dragging its feet and using obtuse methods like making the NSFs register themselves on the Niti Aayog Portal to draw from its funds, the MYAS must get the National Sports Development Bill 2013 – perhaps calling it the National Sports Regulatory Bill – passed and make sure that NSFs embrace good governance and transparency whole-heartedly.

At a time when they should embrace self-regulation and good governance, officials in many NSFs run the risk of having their careers curtailed. Their opposition to some amount of government regulation can lead to more PILs that will make courts force sports officials see value in such regulation. The risk for NSFs, as BCCI will have realised by now, is immense.

It does not take much more than collective will to ensure that everyone gets on the same page as far as governance, transparency and ethics are concerned. It will ensure that India’s vision of becoming a sports-conscious nation and one that can realistically dream of winning more Olympic medals in 2020 and 2024.

(The writer is a veteran sports journalist)

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