Will Maken Succeed In Stemming The Chaos?
MS Gill’s lament must be that he could not oust Suresh Kalmadi’s from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and Organising committee (OC), Commonwealth Games (CWG) during his tenure as Sports Minister. Gill’s hands were tied. He knew that Kalmadi and his colleague in the sports federations are powerful chieftains, who have reduced the federation to their fiefdom. Like some of his well meaning predecessors, he had ambitious plans to give Indian sports a new direction. But he hit the wall like his predecessors.
Gill, a flamboyant civil servant, also a former Chief Election Commissioner, opened too many fronts and took on too many powerful people at a same time and soon found that the people and the system he was supposedly fighting for have deserted him and one fine morning he found himself shifted from high profile Sports Ministry to a non-descript Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.
The tall Jat known for his earthy humour, was always at pains to explain that he or rather government has no power to remove Suresh Kalmadi or Lalit Bhanot from OC, CWG because they were elected by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). It is an autonomous body and government has its limitations, Gill used to say during his hay day as Sports Minister. So he must have been rudely shocked to hear that Kalmadi and Bhanot have been sacked without much ado by the new minister Ajay Maken. Both have also been removed from executive board of the OC. What Gill could not do for last three months, Maken did in one day after taking over as new Sports Minister.
Was there any design behind this? “No” asserted Maken, “I have gone by the opinion of Attorney General Ghulam E Vahanvati,” adding this decision had been taken in light of the ongoing investigation by CBI into allegations of corruption and irregularities in organisation and conduct of the Commonwealth Games.
The action has been taken in the light of concerns expressed by the CBI and in the interest of impartial and unhindered investigations, said the young minister. Interestingly Jarnail Singh, a retired IAS officer and Prime minister’s nominee on the CWG executive board has been asked to look after the affairs of the OC.
The CBI had earlier conveyed its concerns to Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar, informing that the tainted duo should be removed from their posts at the earliest, since they were intimidating the witnesses and trying to hinder the agency’s investigations.
The preparations of the 2010 Commonwealth Games were wracked by allegations of corruption, mismanagement and faulty infrastructure. The multi-sports mega event, which was awarded to India in 2003, had an estimated initial total budget of Rs 1,620 crore, according to a report by the Indian Olympic Association. However, by the time the games got rolling seven years later, its total official budget had escalated to an estimated Rs 11,500 crore, making it the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever. This one decision—sacking of Kalmadi and Bhanot from OC—propelled Ajay Maken to the front pages of the national newspapers and television channels and political pundits have started reading meaning behind this sudden but very strong action. If it was so easy to get rid of Kalmadi and company at least from the OC, why was Gill not allowed to carry out the sack orders? And if Gill was responsible for the CWG mess, Jaipal Reddy as the then Urban Development Minister and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit should also be held accountable. But Reddy has been elevated as Oil Minister and Ms Dixit is firmly entrenched in her position (so far).
The next logical step for the government will be to seek Kalmadi’s removal from the IOA, but the Lok Sabha member from Pune is at the moment seems to be defiant. He has made it clear that he will not step down as president of the IOA as ”It has nothing to do with the IOA”. Kalmadi’s contention is that he was nominated the OC Chairman by the IOA, and only it can remove him.
“The OC is an autonomous society registered under the Societies Registration Act. As the Chairman of the society, I can only be removed in accordance with the constitutional documents of the society.” The IOA chief also stated that the order for his sacking has been clearly issued as a knee-jerk reaction to the prejudice created by certain sections of the media.
However Kalmadi knows that once Congress high command (read Sonia Gandhi) decides against him, he will have no alternative but to quit the IOA. Perhaps he had sensed the things to come so he used his last weapon—a threat from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
This has been a usual refrain of the sports administrators of the country to brow beat the government by reading out the IOC charter. So it came as a no surprise when IOC issued often repeated “fatwa” against Indian Sports Ministry. It virtually ordered that government and IOA to sort out its internal differences or face a possible ban.
After a two-day meeting, the IOC executive board said India will have to take care of a number of issues. “Consequently if the situation does not evolve positively, the IOC executive board will consider taking appropriate measures and actions which might seriously affect the representation and participation of India at the Olympic Games and international sports events coming up,” the IOC said.
According to some experts here, IOC means business. Last year the IOC banned Kuwait from international events for not conforming to its guidelines and for excessive political interference into the way sport is run in that country. These experts further say that IOC also cracked the whip on Ghana before warning India. What could happen if IOC bans India? Indian athletes will not be able to compete in Olympics and major international events. However these so-called experts ignore one big and basic fact—India is no Kuwait or Ghana. It is World’s second most populous country and a very important economy. It is a democratic country unlike those against whom IOC has taken action and also Indian government is not foisting its nominees.
It is worthwhile to note that IOC has never ever issued any such dictate to China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia or even North Korea. In all these (and many more) countries the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are run by the government nominee.
China hosted two Asian Games (1990, 2010) and the Olympics (2008) and is the venue for World Universities Games this year. Qatar, where the sports federations are headed by the royal family members, has been awarded the Football World Cup (2022). No body knows what has happened to the North Korean Football team, which lost the World Cup in South Africa. Despite some reports that the players have been sent to coal mines and given harsh sentences, neither the IOC nor FIFA has taken any action against that country. So on what grounds, IOC can even think of banning India?
The IOA and National Sports Federations have overused this ploy and time has come that they should pave for the young leadership. The shape of things to come is evident from the way former hockey Olympian Aslam Sher Khan, has blasted the IOA and the IOC. “India should beware of the international sports mafia. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is now defending Suresh Kalmadi as he is giving them money. They are adamant to bail Kalmadi out as he is resisting the move of the sports ministry to fix tenures for Indian sports federations and associations. India will have to wage a prolonged battle to fight the international sports bodies,” he says and he has a point.
By Harpal Singh Bedi