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By-Rishika Mendiratta (Founder and Managing Editor at KhelAdhikar)
Reagan once said, “Status quo is the mess we are in.”
This quote is absolutely apt for the situation of sporting administration in our country. Sports administration in India is infatuated with the prospect of money and power thus blinkering the vision of sports romanticists and enthusiasts to the very core. The abysmal performance which India has been showing in various sporting events with the exception of cricket is in tandem with the inefficient administration of the all the sporting bodies.
We have been marred by more scandals and controversies in the field of sports than winning medals at the various sporting events. The unadulterated zeal for sports is slowly turning into a cynical and sceptical attitude where every achievement is doubted and every step towards improvement is criticized.
Today politicians masquerading as our country’s torchbearers with regards to the sporting administration have made avarice and greed a virtue and these sporting federations a place where they try to hone their virtuous talents. The situation has worsened to such an extent that these cathartic outbursts are no longer limited to the general sports-loving population and the numerous debatable platforms in media but has gone a notch higher with the Supreme Court criticizing the politicians for heading sporting organisation in the case of infighting between Indian Hockey Federation and Hockey India.
Now the most important question is, Do we need a law to prevent the highly sports dispirited people from being barred to manage the sporting federations? Well, the answer is obviously yes. But before that, we need to analyze the current sporting situation and the measures already taken to get a legal solution to the problem and then find a feasible way in the search of a more hopeful and successful future.
The nexus between sports and politics runs into a long timeline. The reason being that once a politician is at the helm of affairs of any sporting body then it is very difficult to dislodge him because of his clout and power. The recent example is one of the most disgraceful incidences of the scrapping of Indian Amateur Boxing Association. Even the Boxing India, formed as a replacement to this association had to be scrapped and it was followed with the formation of an ad hoc committee by the AIBA. The trouble arose because IBF’s general secretary in a letter to the AIBF was cajoling them to give their assent to the current position holders of the IBF, and hence AIBA in order to ensure the fair and clean functioning of the sporting organisation had to take this effect. Although the sportspersons and coaches are unaffected, the sporting organisation has suffered a major setback leaving a big blotch on the country’s sports administration. Prior to this, the Chautalas had a strong foothold on the Boxing and Tennis Federation in India and had politicized these bodies only to leave them in the lurch and amid a plethora of troubles and controversies. On his website, Suresh Kalmadi, the embarrassing Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee Chairman, modestly claimed that “As President of the Indian Olympic Association, (I) got the country the first-ever gold medal in an individual event (sic) at the Beijing Olympic (sic) 2008.”
The bleak future of sports in India because of political interference can also be highlighted by taking the example of Bernie Ecclestone’s reason for roping the Indian Grand Prix. He said, “very political” when asked for the reasons of cancellations of the event which has a short run of only three years as it came into existence in 2011. In addition to this Mark Seagraves, former Liverpool FC player who is the founder of Football Faktory, an organisation for developing the football talent in India has also condemned the involvement of politicians in sports stating that “People with no clue about sports are heading sporting bodies in India. We need people who have been sportspersons so they can go to the ministry and tell them their requirements,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
Not only this but even the most revered politicians in our country Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitely have been the head of Gujarat and Delhi cricket associations respectively until 2014, which they had held on for years, and now again the Gujarat’s cricketing affairs have been passed on to Amit Shah thus ensuring that sports is always at the servitude of the politicians rather than the nation.
The most agonizing apathy has been that even after the ignominious revelations of the management of sporting affairs in India that washed the dirty linen of many politicians in public, things have not changed.
The former Prime Minister Of India who was known for being taciturn has also commented “I hope that sports and politics do not get mixed” This came after the IPLspot-fixing scandal. Sadly apart from this comment there was no effort by his government and his ministers with the exception of Ajay Maken to bring about a change in the sporting administration of the country.
The amalgam of politics and sporting administration has been like that of single malt and tonic water which is detrimental to the progress of sports in our country.
The reasons for not having politicians as sporting head are varied, but the common point being politicians do it for profit and not for the love of the game thus the sport loses its true and fair purpose and is boiled down to being a money spinner for the managers rather being a pathway for success of numerous zealous and talented athletes.
Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia concurs. “People who are in those positions don’t understand sports”, he says, “When that is the case, they don’t really have the heart to bring in change. You need driven people, who go to sleep thinking about how to improve the game. And I don’t think that it is just at the top level; even at the basic state to district level, the people who are in these positions are just there… I don’t think they seriously think…”. This comes from a player who has seen and struggled to carve a niche for himself in one of the most underperforming sports of the country and thus has first-hand information on this situation. Moreover the political imbroglio in which the sporting federations are tied up was further explained by Bhutia in his narration. He said, this “system” doesn’t just percolate all the way down, it even affects team selection. Take Sachin Thakore, who played football and basketball for Maharashtra. “The system,” he says, “was that from each zone — west and east, south and north — you had to have two or three players. Because you had to make X or Y happy, otherwise during election, there would be a problem. So you may not get the best players”. Thus the politicization of sports has far reaching effects. Two of them are that, first the best don’t get selected and thus the performance is effected which explains India’s poor sporting performance which is a direct consequence of the malafide administration. The sorry state of affairs that explains how political management has ensnared these sporting organizations is reiterated by Bill Adams who is the founder of Super Soccer Academy, a grass root programme for teaching football in Haryana. He says, “Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, the then president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), would select a person as state federation chief and tell him, ‘You just have to vote for me once a year and the post is yours.’” Since the voting strength comprised of 16 members each was assured that one of his preferred players would be selected. Players in reality are used as pawns which help the politicians to win the annual skirmishes of power and success for them is staying in power instead of working for the benefit of the organizations.
Thus talent has been undermined by horse trading, in which the real game is played by politicians, reducing the enhancement of the sporting endeavor and talent in the country. This is not true only with respect to the fringe sporting events of our country which if taking the present scenario would comprise of everything apart from cricket. Even in cricket, 90 percent of the junior level selections are based on political connections.
Now since the overlap between sports and politics is so pronounced in India we need a definite legislation so as to cleanse sports of this disease of noxious politicians who are proliferating in every other Indian Sporting Federation. The need for this task is all the more pressing when Thomas Bach secretary of Indian Olympic Association (hereinafter referred to as IOA) said that “The officials here (of the IOA) need to find unity among themselves, and focus on the athletes and their success.“
The second question is that why politicians are attracted to sports like moth to flame. Well the sporting federation is a portal for them for clout, glamour power which is somewhat sufficient to suffice their ever increasing avarice. Apart from all these free foreign junkets act as a complimentary benefit for the inefficient lobbying these ministers do so as to get funds for these deficiently funded bodies. Besides this is the inception of the emergence of crony capitalism and nepotism in the field of sports.
Sports in India is a State subject and the 20 year long amendment to bring it under the concurrent list was actually withheld in 2001. Thus due to lack of monetary funding and the inadequate support of sponsors as sport apart from cricket are not money-spinners because of which no one wants to invest in them. Here the Centre steps in to provide them with assistance and the inappropriate utilization of these funds, leads to the enlargement of already big pockets of the sportspersons and further deterioration of the appalling condition of sports in the country. India 155 in FIFA rankings, even below Palestine who manages to be above us inspite of having so many political uncertainties
Now we come to the crux of our essay which is concerned with whether we need a law to prevent politicians from entering sports. The answer is yes and this essay will explore the economic and legal analysis of this perspective so as to bring about the rationale of having a law in place for this aspect.
Before that, when the IOC chief Thomas Bach is a sportsperson then why can’t an IOA chief be a sportsperson. When the IOC chief does not rule for decades together why should national sporting federation have the liberty of being the under the same chief and that too without any progress? First of all the success of sports in the country, there are three stakeholders, the sportsperson himself, the administration and the public at large. To solve the aspect of administration the former Sports Minister of India Ajay Maken came up with a Sports Bill in 2011. The impenetrable web which has been formed by the politicians can only be entered through a pathway of legislation. Thus the Bill is a good idea. But the problem does not end here. We have ministers who head these sports federations as Ministers of Parliament and as Cabinet Ministers and obviously every attempt to stonewall has been made and this act still continues.
The bill came up with three important provisions apart from a plenty of other recommendations for improving the sporting management. The following three rules would have led to a decline of the conflict of interest between the sports and politics and would have abolished the fiefdoms formed in the management. In addition, they would have also reduced the opacity in the functioning of these organizations by bringing the national sporting federations under the ambit of RTI.
The provisions are as follows.-
- The Candidate will not exceed the age limit specified by the National Olympic Committee or the National Sports Federation at the time of contesting the election and should not hold office after attaining the age of seventy years.
- The candidate shall not be eligible to re-contest the post of President on the completion of twelve years or three terms of office of four years each in that office with or without any break.
- A minister (whether as a cabinet minister or minister of States or Deputy Minister) in the Ministry or Department of Sports in the central government or any other official of the department of the Sports Authority Of India shall not be eligible to contest for any elective post in the National Olympic Committee or a National Sports Federation until the expiry of five years from the date of relinquishing the charge as such minister or retirement as the case may be.
When the bill has all the provisions which the scenario particularly required, how can it pass this political logjam? Wel, here we have to look at the various interest groups who have a direct involvement in this matter. The parliament comprises of ministers who have direct say in the enactment of the bill but a major chunk of these ministers are involved so to get a yes from them because they won’t submit a humble pie until all the odds are against them in case of non-passage of the bill. From the economic perspective also the bill is not Pareto efficient as it makes the sportsperson and the administration better off at the cost of our ever grumpy politicians. Thus the chances of it being passed by the parliament are very low. Apart from that there is incentive for the ministers to logroll within the parliament and thus gain a majority in the parliament against the bill. With regards to this bill there will be no dissent between the ruling party and the opposition being a dovetail with regards to this issue. Be it Arun Jaitley who has ruled Delhi Cricket Association for a long time or Praful Patel who is the real goalkeeper when it comes to football, sporting federations have always been used by them as forum to further their selfish interests. Thus the cost of passing this bill is higher for the interest groups in favour of the bill. So how the politicians should be encumbered from entering these organizations. If we move on to point of considering a constitutional amendment with regards to this issue the cost is even higher but the benefits are more. Once a constitutional amendment is passed against the barring of politicians for heading sporting these sporting organizations the economic cost of reversing or altering the provisions will be much higher. To give this idea an impetus, the Supreme Court can issue a directive or a ruling in the cases pending before it contesting sports corruption. Once certain guidelines are formed within a few years they may culminate into a law just like the Vishakha Guidelines. The problems which might be encountered with the inclusion of such rules may be discrimination against a particular set of persons and the difficulty of defining of who or what a politician/public official/government official is. If the judges and other higher authoritative posts are barred from holding the office for profit then why not the politicians. The ruling of sporting bodies is sure case of conflict of interest. The politicians of today are an apt example of the saying Jack of all trades and master of none. The ministries they handle are languishing with their own sorry state of affairs. Take the case of Agriculture ministry and Sharad Pawar’s performance. The sporting organizations like AIBA, IOA, and Archery Association of India are examples of results the sporting federations have to face when the sporting federations are headed by the politicians.
The next relevant point to be looked into is whether these cynical observations are thee figment of my imagination or sheer reality. Certainly a reality. In the light of a long time required for the passage of the Sports bill, the Union Sports came up with the National Sports development Code, 2011 which set out guidelines for the working of the IOA and the NSFs. Although these guidelines do not incorporate all the provisions of the bill but still has some important clauses which can bring some initiation in our pursuit towards a free and fair sporting environment in India. It contained these 3 clauses as mentioned above which have been a matter of hue and cry among the politicians. It proposed the guidelines for free and fair elections of IOA and NSFs, put a limit on the age and tenure of the officeholders and bring these bodies under the ambit of RTI. It generated so much ire among the disdainful monarchs of the sporting organizations that a PIL was filed in the Delhi High Court by IOA challenging the implementation of the sports code on sports bodies on the ground that the government does not possess any power to impose through guidelines, restrictions on the functioning of autonomous bodies such as IOA and NFSs. The bench, commenting on the current state of sports in the country, said: “Sport administration, the way it is run in India, through coterie, cabals, manipulations and intrigues, seems to discourage a vast majority of the population to devote itself to athletics, shooting, judo, table tennis, gymnastics, soccer, boking, fencing and the like.” “As the cliché goes, the state of sports is in a lock jam where roughly 1.2 billion people have to rest content with a harvest of medals so meager as to be surpassed by just one individual like Michael Phelps,” it added. The debate was contested by V.K Malhotra who had the baton of IOA 33 years and was over 80 years, from Jagdish Tytler who was at the helm of Judo Federation for 16 years. And J.S Gehlot was the head of Kabbadi Federation for 26 years.
Does the law barring politicians from heading the sports federations need to be passed imminently? For justifying this we first need to look at the realities of sports infrastructure and the opportunities available to athletes to pursue excellence in the sport of their choice. Kerala Sajan Prakash who was the winner of 100m butterfly, 4x100m relay and 1500 freestyle events in the National Games being held at Kerala held this year. Lack of finances was the biggest hurdle which prevented him from going to South Africa to avail the benefit of better developed training facilities and our government, more so the politicians who consider themselves to be the savior of sports have not invested this asset who could help India to glorify its sporting potential. Prakash has been a part of both, the Indian Olympic and the Asian game contingent, but he earns Rs 15000 a month from working in railways from working in railways and of which has to spend 4000 on his pool fees and hence additional expenses on better training are difficult for him to pursue. But why are not the politicians heading sports organizations not shelling out money from their coffers to help such talent? Stephen Constantine the newly appointed football coach of India also lamented upon the poor infrastructure of the football clubs in India. The two biggest football clubs of India located in Kolkata also did not have these facilities how can the politicians who are closely associated with its management not see this? World champion Peter Karlsson said that India has table tennis talent which is next to China but where it lacks behind is the proper training facilities and Infrastructure. Well let’s take a closer look, Olympic winner Abhinav Bindra had his own shooting range, as he said that the facilities provided by the state were below par. Sushil Kumar, the glorified wrestler who has brought many laurels to the country had his personal training, because the sport was devoid of even the basic sporting facilities.
Inspite of the deplorable state of sports in our country, our Prime Minister was hopeful of bidding for the Olympic Games of 2024, at a time when the world still has the horrific memory of the Commonwealth scandal. But this irrational statement was obviously rejected by Thomas Bach on his recent trip to India. The question is when we are not a good sporting country, should we be interested in hosting games or rather concentrate on improving the standard of sports in the country. In a country where we have Sachin Tendulkar considered as the God Of cricket, Milkha Singh as the Flying Sikh, Dhyanchand known as the wizard of hockey, Viswanathan Anand as the ruler of chess, should be a reminder that what we lack is not talent but proper management, which if improved would result in a dramatic and skyrocketing success of our country in sports. This can only be possible through the passage of the National Sports Bill. Our Prime Minister on his recent trip to Australia said that “we celebrate the legend of Bradman and the class Of Tendulkar together.” Thus he should also remember that the conditions have to be improved so that the legends of the likes of Shiva Keshavan, Tintu Luka, Sarita Devi, Achanta Sharath Kamal do not go unwritten. Thus the time has come to follow the motto of Olympics: Faster, Higher and Stronger, which can be initiated through the passage of the legislation so that the beginning towards the goal begins. The time has come for the vital separation of state and sports, to remove the political clout and duality of interests. The Supreme Court has to take a conclusive stand on this issue. It is not only the reputation of sports which is at stake but the career of current and potential sportspersons and the future of our nation. Long ago Vivekananda said ‘”You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita”. So the time has come for the Hindutva propaganda and scam revelations to take a backseat to put the issue of sports administration on the priority list. Let’s hope that the journey starts soon and the ride is sporty.
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