Feudal lords of Indian sports should be shown the door

Sherlock Holmes in his short story ‘Silver Blaze’ solved a crime because ‘the dog did not bark’ and the parallel reality is ‘barking dogs’ often prevent the occurrence of crimes. Leave alone barking dogs, the entire nation has been shouting from the rooftop to prevent open loot by various functionaries of Indian sports bodies but in vain. The culpability of Kalmadi and his cohorts during the Commonwealth Games of 2010 is in the public domain.

While under trial, he was all set to proceed to London to attend the Olympics as President of IOA (Indian Olympic Association). He was stalled from his gallop at the intervention of the Supreme Court following a huge public outcry.

Today, Indian sports have come to an impasse. The international mother bodies have suspended IOA, India Boxing federation and Indian Archery Federation because of the questionable elections of Chautala as the president of IOA and the chairman of Indian Amateur Boxing Federation, and Malhotra as the president of Indian Archery Federation. Bhanot, the erstwhile deputy of Kalmadi who spent a year in jail on account of corruption charges was elected as the General Secretary of IOA. They are in no mood to let go their vice-like grip on these organisations after decades of mismanagement.

The country has 34 sports federations in various disciplines and most of them are headed by politicians or bureaucrats who get elected again and again, mostly unopposed. Feudalism in India was abolished soon after independence but the new breed of feudal lords of our sports remain unaccountable and quell dissent with a sledge hammer ostensibly in the name of the country and Indian sports.

India, a nation of 1.12 billion people with the highest percentage of youth and one of the fastest growing economy in the world went gung-ho over our biggest medal haul in the 2012 London Olympics. What was our medal tally? Zero Gold, two Silver and four Bronze medals. Archery, the much fancied discipline prior to the Olympics was a whitewash and so were Athletics and many other disciplines in which India participated. Countries like Austria, Norway and Sweden with less than one tenth of India’s human resources won more medals than us. Olympics come and go but the blind men of Hindustan in control of our sports neither have the desire nor the inclination to see beyond their personal agenda.

Self-propagation

The culture of using public organisations for self-propagation has percolated deep in the country’s system of governance. It is amazing to find sports federations, regulatory bodies, commissions, think tanks and a number of other such forums that have mushroomed in the last two decades largely headed by politicians, retired bureaucrats and other functionaries with little accountability.

Recently, the chairman of Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, a retired bureaucrat was forced to review electricity tariff rates for low end users following a public outcry. The clash between Indian Hockey Federation –Hockey India, KPS Gill’s unrelenting efforts to hang on as president of the former and Peas-Bhupathi pairing management fiasco by the Indian Tennis Federation did more harm to Indian sports than any good. The country’s performance in these disciplines in the Olympic Games of 2012 was dismal.

It is heartening to see the government for a change acting against the suspended sports bodies by withdrawing support to the Indian Boxing and Archery Federations. Ajay Maken, the previous minister for youth affairs and sports has rendered a yeomen service by proposing the contentious National Sports Development Bill and kudos to the present minister Jitendra Singh for keeping it on course.

The key features of the sports bill are establishment of National Sports Development Council (NSDC) headed by an eminent sportsperson, role delineation between the National Sports Federations (NSFs), Sports Authority of India and the government, model election code for the IOA and NSFs, restricting upper age of functionaries to 70 years with maximum two tenures of four years each, appointment of National Sports Ombudsman and an appellate authority for speedy resolution of sports related disputes and reservation of 25 per cent membership and voting rights in the IOA and NSFs for sportspersons.

The bill has some excellent features but the concern is that like other good legislations it may not free Indian sports from its political and bureaucratic strangle. To obviate this, reservation for sportspersons in the IOA, NSFs and other sports bodies be increased from 25 per cent to 50 per cent , with voting rights, and age limit for functionaries further reduced from 70 to 65 years. Is there a need to have both the ombudsman and the appellate authority?

These should not become another berth for retired officials to bask on taxpayer’s money after their superannuation like other commissions and regulatory bodies. The functions of ombudsman and the appellate authority could be imbedded into the NSDC and its power and functions explicitly defined. The bill needs to be pursued with a messianic zeal and implemented to free Indian sports from its feudal lords.

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