Time For India To Call Off IOC Bluff
The well-entrenched officialdom in the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) refuses to quit or bow out gracefully. The officials are just not heeding the plea from the government to accept the guidelines. They also are not bothered about the public opinion which is fast turning against them. The Commonwealth Games scandal and now the new scams coming out of the National Games have not deterred them to challenge the government’s move to introduce new sports legislation. To save their chairs/positions these officials went all out to seek the help of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and once again the international body has issued a virtual ultimatum to Indian government cautioning it against meddling in the affairs of the IOA and National Sports Federations (NSFs).
The question arises: Is the IOC all that powerful that it can even threaten world’s largest democracy? The IOC letter (see the box) came after the parliamentary consultative committee for the Ministry of Sports met and deliberated on the proposal to bring out a National Sports Development Bill to promote sporting excellence in the country.
The salient features of the draft are establishment of a national sports development council headed by an eminent sportsperson; role delineation between the NSFs, Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the government; model election code for IOA and NSFs; appointment of a 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 IOA and NSFs for sportspersons.
The Committee members were unanimous that a sports legislation at the national level was essential to promote professional management of sports in India; protect sportspersons’ rights; strengthen the talent identification and development system in the country; and ensure fair and transparent selection of national teams.
The parliament is a supreme body in any democratic country and no body dare challenge its decision, but it was surprising to see that IOC not respecting the views of the parliamentary committee. On the other hand, IOC rebuked the Indian Sports Ministry for its ‘continued interference’ in the functioning of the IOA and has warned once again that such actions may lead to the country’s exclusion from world events, including the Olympics and its qualifying events.
“NEW SPORTS LEGISLATION IS BREACH OF THE PRINCIPLE OF AUTONOMY”—Randhir Singh
Raja Randhir Singh, the first Indian shooter to win a gold medal in Asian games, has also the distinction of being the only top sportsperson in the country to occupy a high post in the National Olympic Committee (NOC). Randhir, a successor of the royal family of Patiala, is currently the secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and these are not happy times for the IOA or for that matter for Indian sports (except cricket).
IOA is under government scanner after Commonwealth Games fiasco, several of its officials are being charged with corruption and graft and few of them are behind the bars. Government wants to streamline the functioning of the National Sports Federations (NSFs) whom it funds but the IOA is resisting. It does not want any meddling by the Sports Ministry and is vehemently opposing the proposed new sports legislations.
Leading the IOA’s offensive is Randhir Singh, who is also the secretary general of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). “I don’t understand government’s such keenness to interfere in the affairs of the NSFs. This is clear breach of principle of autonomy of the federations and violation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) charter,” he said. “IOC has already cautioned the government (Sports Ministry) against making any changes which will dilute the autonomy of the NSFs or the IOA,” he said adding that the letter sent by the IOC explains every thing.
He rubbished the criticism that government has the right to intervene because it funds the sports budget and also provides the (tax-payers) money to sports associations/federations.
“All the money spent by the NSFs is audited by the CAG, the highest constitutional audit authority in the country. What else do you want? It is not as if federations spent money the way they like. And mind you, even for going abroad, tickets have to be bought from the government authorised agent and it is the ministry which pays to the agent. Federations have nothing to do with that.”
“I am fiercely committed to the Olympic charter as an IOC member and also being the secretary general of IOA and OCA. I believe government meddling is not good for the sports. Yes I agree that public has wrong impression about the IOA and NSFs because what happened before and after the Commonwealth Games, but government agencies are looking into the alleged corruption charges, let them do their work.”
“These are unfortunate happenings, people are angry, but we won’t allow few bad eggs to spoil the basket,” he said.
“We are against government using the backdoor methods to infiltrate into the NSFs or the IOA. We are elected members. The IOA and NSFs are democratically elected bodies and we live in a democracy” he added.
“IOA/NSFs will soon come out of this sorry state of affairs. We will show the world that as a sports administrators we are capable of giving good leadership to the Olympic movement in the country. Let me tell you that several Indians occupy important positions in the international sports federations. This itself proves that we are held in high esteem by the international sporting community,” he added.
About his sporting years, Randhir says he took to shooting from an early age. “I became national champion in 1964.” He represented the country in six Olympics and three Asian Games. At the Pesta Sukan Shooting Championship in Singapore in 1969, he won four gold medals in trap and skeet events. In the 1978 Bangkok Asian Games, he become the first Indian shooter to win a gold medal in Asian Games. In 1982 Delhi Asiad he won individual bronze and was the member of the silver-winning team.
He won the National Championship in Individual Trap for three years on the trot from 1980 to 1982 and was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 1997 and was awarded ‘OCA Award of Merit’ in 24th OCA General Assembly, in 2005.
Asked why he joined the sports administration, Randhir said: “I was always interested in doing something for sports. I am what I am is because of sports so I was determined to stay in touch with this movement (sports).”
The IOA secretary general was very optimistic about the future of Indian sports. “The performance of our sportsperson in recent international events—Olympics, Commonwealth and Asian Games—has been world class and I am very confident that by 2020 we should be among the to 20 sporting nations in the world.”
“On the international scene, we are a force to reckon with in shooting, boxing and wrestling. We are doing well in badminton and tennis. Yes we lag behind in team events like hockey and football but I am optimist about turnaround for better for those games.”
“My only appeal to government is let us work together for the betterment of Indian sports,” he said.
In a letter to Sports Minister Ajay Maken, the IOC has asked him to ‘consider the legislation as it will directly impact and affect the federations. Furthermore the IOC said the ministry should not interfere in the election process of the NSFs by enforcing any criteria. The IOC said: “If not, India’s representation and participation in upcoming international sports events (in particular for qualification to and participation in the Olympic Games) might be threatened and subject to measures taken by the international sports organisations
The Sport Ministry rightly hit back at the IOC for trying to blackmail it and prevent it from bringing transparency in Indian sports. “We will not succumb to such pressure. It is nothing but a kind of blackmail. Our intentions are to bring about transparency in Indian sports and we want to go ahead with it,” ministry responded.
The ministry, in a strongly worded statement, accused IOA secretary general Randhir Singh of having a “conflict of interest on the issue in view of his 23-year-long continuous tenure as IOA secretary general and also an independent member from India on the IOC”. The ministry said: “It is noting with regret that they were not consulted before the IOC was approached.”
“The IOC, too, did not seek any inputs from the government before its NOC Relations Director sent the letter to Randhir Singh, who in turn has sent it to the government in his dual capacity,” it said. The ministry should have slammed the IOC for interfering in its affairs but the government has chosen a non-confrontationist path. It wants to convince IOC that the new legislation, when passed by the Parliament, cannot be challenged.
Following are the excerpts of the letter, which International Olympic Committee (IOC) has written to the Sports Ministry.
We have been informed that your Ministry has proposed a preliminary draft of new sports legislation in India…
IOC’s balanced approach between (i) developing harmonious and complementary cooperation with the government authorities (which is needed) and (ii) preserving the autonomy of national sports organisations and of the Olympic Movement in a country has been clearly expressed. It is also worth recalling that these principles and this balanced approach were clearly addressed and explained on the occasion of our meeting with the representatives of the Government of India on 18 June 2010 in Lausanne, during which we received a clear commitment from the Government of India to respect and recognise the principle of autonomy of the sports organisations and the Olympic Charter.
In that framework, the autonomy and the jurisdiction of each entity shall be mutually respected whilst ensuring the best possible cooperation with the government authorities as partners. By way of example, we fully understand that if the national sports organisations receive public funds, they must, logically and legitimately, be accountable for the use of such specific funds to the public authorities concerned…
Once again, the IOC does not say whether the criteria mentioned in the new draft sports legislation are appropriate or not (given that there is not one single approach in these matters, but there may be different views and opinions), but says only that the national sports organisations as autonomous legal entities should be able to decide by themselves whether they shall adopt such criteria or not (on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with their own statutes). Hence, these criteria might be proposed or suggested by the government, but should not, however, be imposed…
Consequently, we would like to respectfully ask you to consider your new sports legislation in the light of the above-noted basic principles, so as to respect each one’s jurisdiction and thus avoid any breach of the principle of autonomy and incompatibilities with the rules of the Olympic Movement and the international sports organisations to which the national sports organisations in India are affiliated and which allow the representation of India on the international sports scene.
If not, India’s representation and participation in upcoming international sports events (in particular for qualification to and participation in the Olympic Games) might be threatened and subject to measures taken by the international sports organisations, and we would be obliged to present this case again at the next IOC Executive Board meeting, which will take place in London.
NOC Relations Director, International Olympic Committee (IOC)
The present situation in NSFs/IOA with persons in continuous office from 12 to over 30 years has also engaged the attention of Parliament. In the Rajya Sabha members from all political parties urged the government to restore the tenure regulation of 1975.
“In its current order, the government has prescribed that the tenure limit will apply prospectively to future elections. In most cases the elections to NSFs would become due after 2011.”
Also the sports chieftains should know that the IOA, despite being a member of the IOC, cannot exist without being a legally registered body as required by the law of the land. The same applies to other National Sports Federations. This is not a new controversy. For last two-three years IOC is treating India as its fiefdom and at the drop of the hat it sends a letter or missive to the government warning or cautioning it not to do this or that.
One will like to know how many times IOC has dared to write such a letter to China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia or ever North Korea. FIFA, perhaps the most powerful international sports federation, could do nothing to North Korea, despite the news that players of that secretive nation have been sent to labour camps. FIFA chief Sepp Blater even gave a clean chit to North Koreans saying he was told that nothing has happened to the players.
So why India, the world’s second most populous country, is treated like a banana republic by the IOC? The time has come for Indian government to call off the IOC bluff. India is too big a economy to be ignored. International Hockey Federation (FIH) found it out. It kept on threatening India that World Cup will be withdrawn from Delhi if elections are not held to the hockey federation in India. But then suddenly abandoned the idea after it got large numbers of sponsors. Now it wants to hold more tournaments in the country—simple commerce.
It is the time government goes ahead with the new guidelines. The IOC president term is for 12 years (three terms of four years each). It has even abolished the concept of life members. It has fixed age limit for members, so why can India not have fixed terms and age limit for its sports officials? Time for India to call off the IOC bluff, once and for all.
By Harpal Singh Bedi