Monday, 1 June 2020

The Mess That Is Indian Sports

Updated: March 19, 2011 2:13 pm

Indian Olympic Association (IOA) chief Suresh Kalmadi wants to know why only he and his colleague in the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee are being targeted and Why Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Union Ministers Jaipal Reddy and MS Gill are not being questioned by the CBI.

                Sports officials are surprised as to why there was a shortage of medals in the National Games held in Ranchi at huge cost. And also why the President, Prime Minister and Sports Minister skipped the games.

                Bob Houghton, the British coach of India’s national football team, is wondering why he is being sacked for the racist remark which he never made. International Cricket Council (ICC) CEO Haroon Lorgat cannot fathom as to how police can lathicharge the people who just wanted to buy tickets for the India-England World Cup match in Bengaluru. And last but not the least the sports fans not interested in cricket are wondering as to why national media (print and visual) virtually ignored the National Games which were witnessed by over a million people while inane Cricket World Cup matches involving Canada, Ireland, Holland, Kenya, Zimbabwe being played before empty stadiums are given so much coverage.

                These are not the simple questions, they show the mess Indian sports are in and the sheer callousness of sports administrators who are just interested in making money and not bothered about the fans.

                Let us start with Kalmadi’s outburst. The sacked boss of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee finds himself in a tight corner. He was shaken with the arrest of his close aides—secretary general Lalit Bhanot and OC director general VK Verma in connection with alleged irregularities in the Rs 107-crore deal inked with a Swiss timing firm.

                Lalit Bhanot and Verma had earlier been booked under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating) of IPC and various Sections of Prevention of Corruption Act, along with Switzerland-based firm Swiss Timing Ltd and other unknown persons.

                Knowing well that he is fighting a lost battle, Kalmadi does not want to go down alone. He will like to take along other ministers who were involved in the Games preparations with him. It looks increasingly difficult that he will succeed in his objectives but he is trying.

                After Bhanot and Verma’s arrest a desperate Kalmadi issued a very emotional statement: “I am deeply pained and constrained at the malicious campaign going against me regarding Commonwealth Games 2010. The stories going around are far from actual facts.The Organising Committee budget for conducting the games was just about 5 per cent of the total budget of the Commonwealth Games. In spite of this I am the only one who has been singled out and targeted for investigations while the role of all other government agencies including Delhi government and various other central government instrumental agencies connected with the decision-making process, who have been associated with the 95 per cent of the budget have been completely overlooked.”

                He told a TV channel that Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, along with two Union Ministers, should also be summoned by the investigating agency. Kalmadi, asserted that all decisions pertaining to the purchase of the CWG equipment were taken unanimously by the executive board of the the OC. “This Committee comprised officials of the Union Sports Ministry, Delhi government, Commonwealth Federations and IOA. Why were some OC officials singled out and not even one government official quizzed?” he said. When asked if he wanted the Delhi CM as well as former Sports Minister MS Gill and Urban Development Minister S Jaipal Reddy to be summoned by the investigating agency, he replied “All those who were involved in organising the Games must be summoned. Why just go after the OC?”

                While the IOA bosses were fighting it out with the government, sportspersons were the sufferers at the National Games. The players who finished third had to be content with garlands because the bronze medals were out of stock! The gold and silver medal winners were presented their respective medals. The medal ceremony of 10 sporting events could not be conducted at the mega sports complex due to shortage of medals. Jharkhand Olympic Association (JOA) general secretary SM Hashmi admitted the fiasco, saying the bronze medals were indeed out of stock. And the IOA wants to bid for the Asian and Olympics.

                The ongoing crisis in the IOA had another fallout with the President, Prime Minister and Sports Minister skipping the Games because these dignitaries did not want to share the dias with “tainted” Suresh Kalmadi. Jharkhand Olympic Association (JOA) president RK Anand squarely blamed the IOA chief for the absence of these VIPs. “It’s unfortunate that the President, the Prime Minister and the Sports Minister did not come for the Games. I can’t answer for Kalmadi but he should have made the right decisions,”

                Despite of mismanagement, the National Games were huge success. Over one million people visited the stadiums during the 12-day-long sporting fiesta giving lie to the propoganda that World Cup cricket will dwarf all other sporting events in the country. It was indeed sad to see that National media just dismissed the whole event in barely one or two coloum stories, whereas inconsequential World Cup matches were given two-three page coverage.

                As if this was not enough, there was another disturbing news that All India Football Federation (AIFF) has decided to sack national coach Bob Houghton over allegations that he made racist remarks to one of the country’s top referees. Houghton has been accused of complaining about “bastard Indian referees” during an argument in October last year. The AIFF said its investigation had confirmed the allegations, which it has now referred to a lawyer to establish whether they have sufficient grounds to terminate his contract.

                AIFF’s general secretary Kaushal Das told the Daily Telegraph (London) the comments allegedly made by Mr Houghton were “purely a case of racial abuse” and that they could lead to a charge of “bringing the Federation into disrepute”. He said AIFF was also angry at Houghton’s criticisms of Indian football facilities. He had said the national team is forced to train outside the country, India has only one proper stadium which is not used for football, and that its players are expected to play on surfaces “no self-respecting top player would play on”.

                A statement by the AIFF confirmed its executive committee had expressed its “unhappiness regarding the conduct and derogatory remarks made by Mr Bob Houghton”. “The executive committee has unanimously decided to seek legal opinion regarding its course of action,” it said.

                However the AIFF decision has not received much support. According to former International and coach PK Banerjee, “To sack a coach because of his poor performance is a widely accepted practice. But to throw someone out on the basis of allegations of racial abuse and poor conduct could be interpreted as witch-hunting. Such cheap tactics, I am afraid to say, won’t really add to the reputation of AIFF.”

                “The AIFF, I suspect, was never serious about the allegation of racial abuse against the coach and is only using it now as a tool to get rid of Houghton. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that the federation sat on the complaint lodged by an Indian referee for nearly six months before taking it up? I sincerely hope both FIFA and the Asian body ask the AIFF the same question. As a former player and a coach, I feel hurt whenever a technical person is hounded by people, who have no knowledge of the game.”

                Star player Sunil Chhetri also supported the Englishman claiming that the 62-year-old is one of the “most well-behaved gentlemen” he has come across. “I think to call Houghton a racist is not justified as in his five years with our team, he has always been one of the most well-behaved individuals. He is one of the most professional coaches we have across. Whatever between the AIFF and Bob is, that’s a different matter but he is certainly not a racist,” said Chhetri.

                The coach also reacted sharply to the allegation of racism, “Further to reports in the media that I made a racist remark to a fourth official last year, I wish to categorically deny that allegation,” Houghton said in the statement. “I have no doubt that all the players and staff that I have worked with in India would confirm that I do not have a racist bone in my body and have treated all of them with the utmost respect.”

                Meanwhile, International Cricket Council CEO Haroon Lorgat criticised the police lathicharge on fans seeking tickets for the India-England World Cup clash in Bengaluru, saying the fiasco was unfortunate and the governing body would not like to see such scenes again.

                “Those are scenes that we would not like to see. None of us would like to see that,” Lorgat said.

                The ICC CEO’s statement came in the wake of the clashes between fans and the police in Bengaluru which sparked an outrage over the lack of tickets for the public in the mega-event.

                With most of the tickets reserved for sponsors, ICC and overseas visitors, the local fans have been left to jostle for very few. Add to this, the online ticket sales have also not gone about smoothly with the website roped in to handle the work crashing down several times because of the excessive load.

                The ICC had written to the BCCI asking it to resolve the matter but the Indian Board claimed it was only honouring the commitments made to the governing body.

                Lorgat said it was regretful that very few tickets have been put on sale for the local fans but admitted that the supply would never be able to meet the demand in a huge country such as India. “What is unfortunate is that too few go to the public as a general sale,” he said. “No matter what sort of capacity we provide the truth is that we won’t have enough seats for the demand that we have on our hands,” he said.

                However, in a clear rebuff to the local associations and the BCCI, the ICC announced the process for the public sale of tickets for the World Cup semi-finals in Colombo and Mohali on March 29 and 30, respectively and the final to be held at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 2.

                Explaining the process Lorgat, said there will be a public ballot system similar to that which is used in the majority of global sporting event.

                He however dismissed media perceptions about a letter addressed to ICC President Sharad Pawar, and said: “To help resolve our ticketing challenges we have also engaged the offices of the ICC President Mr Pawar to assist us as he has done with several other issues related to World Cup planning.”

                Not every thing is fine with ICC and the Cricket World Cup.

By Harpal Singh Bedi

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