Indian Sports: Brace For Turbulence
With the arrest of IOA Chief Suresh Kalmadi, Indian sports administration is bracing for more difficult and turbulent times. Kalmadi had the inkling of the things to come, so he wanted to delay the inevitable and after failing to get the party high command’s support, he tried to project himself a person who is targeted so that other powerful people can escape. In the process, he tried to keep his flock in the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) together as he defended his colleagues. His wanted to convince his supporters in various sports federations that he is also fighting their battle.
In a letter to the government and CBI Director, Kalmadi said: “The officers of the Organising Committee (of the Commonwealth Games) have always co-operated with the investigating agencies, making all documents available to them and presenting themselves at the CBI offices whenever called.
“The entire focus is on members of the Organising Committee who have been sports administrators. Others who worked hard for years to ensure the success of the Games have been singled out in the investigation.”
How much impact this letter will make on the office-bearers of the NSFs, is not yet known but the fact remains that Kalmadi’s arrest has made the sports chieftains in the country nervous and apprehensive about their future as the government (Sports Ministry) seems determined to implement the new guidelines and pass the National Sports Development Bill.
The Bill proposes an age limit of 70 for all office-bearers, not more than 12 consecutive years for NSF heads and eight years for other office-bearers, 25 per cent reservation for sportspersons in various sports bodies, transparency, secret balloting in elections, strict provisions against sexual harassment and doping.
The sports bosses realise that unless they put up a united front, they may lose the power and clout they have been enjoying for decades. There was a general perception in the public that the massive scandals, which rocked the Commonwealth Games and tarnished country’s image, will have impact on the sports leaders and they may quit gracefully but that has proved wrong. In fact, the bosses are now getting ready for the last-ditch battle with the government to save their fiefdoms.
Within a day of Kalmadi’s arrest, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) acted swiftly and named Prof Vijay Kumar Malhotra as its interim President to thwart any “evil design” government may have had. The IOA members were alarmed by the Sports Minister Ajay Maken’s statement in which he had asked the country’s premier sports body to elect a new president after Kalmadi’s arrest or government may take action.
IOA Vice President Tarlochan Singh, however, gave another twist to the haste in which Prof Malhotra was named acting chief of the IOA saying: “According to the IOA constitution, the senior Vice President automatically takes over his duties when the President is not there. In the event of a prolonged absence of the President, the senior Vice President eventually assumes charge.”
“Let it be clear that Mr Kalmadi has not been removed from the post but because he will not available to perform his duties as the IOA President for some time, Prof Malhotra has been made interim head so that work of the association is not effected,” he said adding: “It is wrongly mentioned in the media that Kalmadi has been sacked, it is not correct.” Despite the display of bravado, there is a sense of unease among the office-bearers of various sports and they have decided to close their ranks for the time being.
SPORTSPERSONS HAIL GOVERNMENT ACTION
Former hockey captain Pargat Singh, who had accused Suresh Kalmadi of running the sports mafia in the country has welcomed the arrest of the former IOA chief. Singh who heads Clean Sports India (CSI) said that though the action was much delayed, it was “better late than never”.
Olympian Ashwani Nachappa described the development as an opportunity to kickstart the reforms of Indian Sports Federations as Mr Kalmadi was a stumbling block for any reforms.
Mr BVP Rao and Mrs Reeth Abraham, Convener and Joint Convener of CSI, said that Kalmadi was the symbol of corruption in sports for over a quarter century and his arrest was a warning signal for other corrupt officials who were sticking to the chairs.
“It is a historic milestone in sports administration” and the coming days would not be attractive for politicians to take over sports bodies,” they added.
Former Indian cricket captain Bishen Singh Bedi described the arrest thus: “A good beginning has been made. There is a need to clean up the sports arena and boot out politicians who have been holding posts of various sports bodies and refuse to go. There is a government directive on how long you can hold a post. People have been sticking to their posts for 30 years at a stretch. Kalmadi has been sent to jail, but what about [former Indian Premier League commissioner] Lalit Modi, who is having a good time after making money from the IPL to the tune of thousands of crores? Why can’t the government bring him back to India and send him to jail?”
According to the former Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) chief KPS Gill: “Indian sports are better off without Kalmadi.”
“Kalmadi’s arrest is ‘the first step’ towards resurrection of Indian sports,” he said and alleged that corruption was a commonplace during Kalmadi’s reign.
“If you take a look at any of the audit reports during the various National Games that were held during Kalmadi’s reign, you will find that there are numerous serious financial irregularities.
“Since Kalmadi and company got away with all of it at the national level, they thought they could try it at the international level too, but thankfully they have been caught and charged,” he said.
According to Gill, “Athletics in India is in the most deplorable state and the reason for this is that it was being run by one of Kalmadi’s trusted men, Lalit Bhanot (who is also presently in prison in connection with the CWG scam). I seriously doubt whether even a single Indian athlete will qualify for the London Olympics 2012, given the state of the sport in the country.”
“He has gotten away for too long and I don’t think the investigative authorities will let him off this time. I believe the CBI has got some solid proof of wrongdoing against him and I don’t think he will be able to emerge from this,” said Gill.
He maintained: “The entire sports administration needs an overhaul. Kalmadi’s ouster is the first step in this regard.”
He also had a dig at the IOA secretary general Randhir Singh saying it was time for him to quit. “I think Randhir has been around for donkey’s years now and this is the right time for him to step down gracefully.”
They have rejected the National Sports Development Bill. “The Bill has been formulated in such a way that the government wants to take 100 per cent control of sports at every level. We are going to outrightly reject the Bill. We will put forward our views to the government,” said Prof Malhotra. “Most of the National Sports Federations (NSFs) have already rejected the proposed legislation, saying it is actually an effort by the government to overtake the sports bodies in the country.
A desperate IOA also roped in Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Vice-President Arun Jaitley who asserted that the Bill would encroach upon the rights of the federations and allow the government “not just regulate but have full control” over the sport bodies. He pointed out that there were a number of provisions in the Bill that were in conflict with the laws followed by the BCCI.
“The draft says that a non-Olympic sport should hold fair and transparent elections every four years but in BCCI, we hold elections every three years. So the age and tenure issue must not be applied to us. We already have our rules in place and that should not be tampered with,” said Jaitley.
Interestingly, IOA Secretary General Randhir Singh has been very cautious in his comments and is not very vocal, “This is a large Bill and it has to be debated upon,” was his cryptic comment. The IOA and NSFs are worried that the government wants to make a backdoor entry through this legislation and control the sports bodies in the country and that may end their hegemony.
“We are in the NSFs to serve the sports, we have given our time, energy and even money for the betterment of sports, which till couple of years back were not a priority area for the government,” said one NSF office-bearer.
However, not many are prepared to buy their argument. “Those who are claiming that they are in the sports federations to serve the game are not speaking the truth. The fact is that they are there for power, money and free trips abroad at the expense of the tax-payer,” claimed former Olympian Aslam Sher Khan.
“Let the government stop the financial assistance to the sports federations and not pay for the officials frequent trips abroad, then see how many officials will be interested to serve the game,” he added. To the dismay of the NSFs the government is no mood to listen to them. It has dismissed the charges of the IOA that the proposed Bill is “interfering” and “agonistic to autonomy of the federations”.
“I wonder as to how a legislation that aimed at bringing about transparency in election procedures through secret ballot and pre-determined declared electoral colleges—which makes it mandatory to have at least 25 per cent of sportsperson as voters, could in any way result in interference,” countered Ajay Maken.
As this was not enough, the Minister went ballistic saying: “I cannot comprehended as to how the NSFs being brought under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act as Public Authorities and ensuring their accountability to people of the country and sports lovers, would amount to interference in their functioning.”
“Seeking to prohibit nepotism by putting age and tenure norms, which are in total conformity to best practices followed and recommended by the top International Sports Federations, IOC would only add to the NSFs’ acceptance and credibility rather than undermine their autonomy.”
The Minister further wanted to know: “Why should a bill that seeks to address differences and grievances of NSFs and sportsperson by setting-up an ombudsman (Lok Pal) and tackle issues of sexual harassment, age fraud and doping, be considered to be agonistic to any person, leave apart sporting federations?”
Maken feels that for the first time Sports Ministry is on a very strong wicket. There is no public support for the associations and it is time for action. He has put the ball in the IOA’s court by demanding: “Let the NSFs/IOA should suggest in black and white as to which were the specific provisions in the draft bill that tantamount to interference in their functioning and autonomy.”
“These federations who represent the nation at various international forums were, in a way, repository of the faith and prestige of the people of India and it was only logical and in national interest that they confirmed to transparent and universally accepted best practices of sports governance. The government has no intention of interfering with the functioning and autonomy of the NSFs. It only wants transparency in their conduct and their accountability to the sports-lovers and people of the country,” he added.
The battle lines have been drawn. The IOA and NSFs are feeling the heat as there is no public support for them. Their lifeline is IOC, but even the world body has its limitations. How can it challenge the law passed by the Indian Parliament?
The arrest of Suresh Kalmadi and some other top sports officials has changed the equations. The IOC will be hard put to defend IOA officials, the government knows it and that is why it is going for the “kill” but whether it will take the fight to its conclusion or again chicken out at crucial moments, only time will tell. At the moment the government is holding all the aces, whereas the IOA and NSFs are praying for a miracle.
By Harpal Singh Bedi