Sports Czars Show Their Clout As they muzzle the Sports Bill
Despite their loud commitment to public probity and transparency, no political leader worth his salt will like to commit harakiri for these causes and this is where Sports Minister Lalit Maken tripped. Armed with irrefutable facts and figures and steeled with overwhelming support from the sports persons, Lalit Maken dared to bring in bill hoping to emerge as an icon amongst the long-suffering sporting fraternity but he miscalculated the influence and powers of those whom he wanted to restrict.
The young minister was aware of the fate that had befallen on previous ministers—Margret Alva, Sunil Dutt, Mani Shankar Iyer and MS Gill, all of whom did fancy to unshackle the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and National Sports Federations (NSF) from the stranglehold of the entrenched sports czars, but he tried nonetheless against all odds and found out to his dismay that it may be easier to steal Taj Mahal than to change the status quo in the sports setup in the country.
The National Sports Development Bill as envisaged by Maken’s ministry was like a red rag to bull for most of the Cabinet ministers who were supposed to clear it to become the act.
How could he have imagined or expected that his bill would clear the very first hurdle—getting a nod from the Cabinet—when it was striking at the very roots of powerful ministers Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah, Vilasrao Deshmukh, CP Joshi, Praful Patel, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Rajiv Shukla. The bill was also effecting Goa Chief Minister Digamber V Kamat, Former Minister Jagdish Tytler, Akali Dal leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, BJP leaders Arun Jaitely, Anurag Thakur, Yashwant Sinha, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, Haryana leaders Abhay and Ajay Singh and many more.
It was amazing that despite “conflict of interest” Pawar, Deshmukh, Joshi, Patel, Abdullah attended the meeting in which this bill was discussed and displayed no hesitation in vetoing it, unmindful of the public opinion and sentiments of the sportspersons. Pawar, a former BCCI chief, at present president of International Cricket Council, according to the reports, spearheaded the move to spike the bill at the very first stage. He even threatened to take this matter to Ms Sonia Gandhi and said that his party members would not vote for it. Taking a cue from the senior minister, other chipped in with their opposition and that was the end of the Sports Development Bill.
However, they took care of not to hurt the feelings of fellow minister (not bothered about the sentiments of the public and sportspersons) they came up with an escape clause saying that Sports Ministry should redraft this bill. But by that time they had sent a clear message—Don’t mess with us. Pawar and his other colleagues especially who are part of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) were peeved that the bill brings BCCI under RTI. There contention is that Board does not take any financial support from the government, the body manages its own affairs and has produced impressive results. Its audited accounts are in the public domain annually. The fact of the matter is that it receives huge tax benefits from the government. Most of the stadiums it has built or owns on the land provided by the government on dirt cheap rates.
Their other argument is that it is not an Olympic sport and it is not a part of the IOA, so if the government has issues with Olympic Committee and National Sports Federation, why should cricket board be dragged into it? On the face of it, their logic seems convincing but it is not so. The BCCI is dependent on the government, may not be to the extent as other NSF are. The Cricket World Cup could not have happened in India without the government support. The BCCI first got the clearance from the authorities before making the bid for this mega event.The cricket squad plays as team India and not as BCCI’s XI. It represents the country and not the board. All the money which BCCI is raking up because people and sponsors pay for their National Team and not for a Board’s XI. Let the BCCI field a team under its name and see how much money it will earn or how many sponsors it will get or how many people will come to cheer for that team.
The government gave tax exemption of a whopping Rs 45 crore for the World Cup and spent millions on the security aspect. The public has every right to know how this cash rich body, which continues to flourish under the government patronage, spends its money. Or to clarify “conflict of interest” situations, like how its president designate N Srinivasan is having his own an Indian Premier League team?
BCCI should have agreed to come under the purview of the Right to Information Act, if it is so clean and transparent. By vigorously opposing application of RTI on it, the office-bearers of this famed body give the impression that they have lot to hide. However, BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla, who is also a Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, came up with a bizarre opposition to the bill. According to him, it was not feasible to bring BCCI under RTI provisions as people would start asking questions on everything and all. “There are a dozen decisions that are taken on every cricket tour. You have to be practical. You are trying to open Pandora’s Box but BCCI has nothing to hide as it had always paid taxes well in advance.” The finance minister has even informed the Parliament that BCCI has paid Rs 249 crore as tax.
As it was not enough Maken also got a rap from Farooq Abdullah who said the Sports Minister should look at the stadia which are under his control and ensure their good upkeep so that athletes get a chance to compete at international level.
Abdullah however claimed that there was nobody who was against RTI. “I think Ajay Maken should realise that whatever happens in meeting cannot be discussed outside. What kind of Minister is he? We are not against RTI. What is there to hide. They (BCCI) are not getting any money from government at all. So what sort of thing is he asking?” he said.
The IOA has always opposed any government intervention because the people who are heading various NSFs are treating them as their personal fiefdoms.The people looking after the affairs of the IOA and NSFs are more worried about protecting the so-called autonomy and unbridled power they enjoy. They also opposed the bill citing the autonomy clause in the Olympic charter. Ironically, with the London Olympic Games 10 months away, IOA and NSFs have sought financial help from the same government, to train the sportspersons for this big event. Several NSFs owe huge amount of money to government. They have not paid or cleared their bills while retaining their office in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. These NSFs are always seeking financial help from the ministry but will not like to be accountable. However, most of the IOA bosses, aware that public perception about the sports federations is not very good, have tried to reached out directly to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Salient features of the (aborted) Sports Development Bill
The National Olympic Committee (NOC) and National Sports Federations (NSF) are responsible for the control, regulation and technical development of sports at national level in India; Sports development is a national priority with the cooperation and partnership of the Government, the NOC and the NSFs and other stakeholder organisations should be developed in areas which should include: sports for development, promotion of indigenous sports, promotion of sporting excellence, the organisation of sporting events, the promotion of athletes’ welfare, the promotion of drug-free sport, and the fight against all forms of corruption in sport arena.
The NOC and NSFs are responsible for the promotion and development of sports, including the selection of national teams representing India in international sports events; In the discharge of the above mentioned responsibilities the NOC and NSFs perform public functions and hence are treated as public authorities expected to follow the highest standards of good governance in the management of sports in the country as well as management of their own internal affairs;
The International Olympic Committee (IOC)proposes the adoption of Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance by the NOC and NSFs to effectively discharge their duties in accordance with the Olympic Charter.The same principles are equally applicable to NSFs dealing with non-Olympic sports. And whereas the Government of India as a signatory to the UNESCO convention against doping in sport is obliged to take effective administrative and legislative measures to eradicate doping in sport; There are other major concerns such as age fraud and sexual harassment in sport, which should be addressed through appropriate administrative or legislative measures.
As a part of a well-calculated strategy Prof Malhotra wrote a letter to Prime Minister saying that not only the premier sports body of the country (IOA) but all the National Sports Federations (NSF) are willing for any scrutiny by the government agencies. He said a wrong and malicious impression is being created in the mind of the general public that IOA is against every government move. IOA has set up an arbitration commission which includes some former Supreme Court and High Court judges. It is meant to settle disputes between associations or sportspersons amicably without outside interference. IOA has zero tolerance towards doping and fully approves and supports WADA’s policy in fighting this scourge. Prof Malhotra said the IOA has always appreciated government’s help which has been enormous.
On the other hand despite the mounting opposition and muted celebration (of bill not being cleared by the cabinet) Ajay Maken remained undaunted saying, “I will talk to my Cabinet colleagues to convince them about the bill.” Maken’s stand is that time has come to cleanse the system of managing the sports organisations by bringing in transparency and accountability, and to prevent any more scams like CWG. “I am surprised that there are some people who say that National Sports Development Bill will enable the government to control the sports bodies,” he said and added “I am ready to rework some of the clauses, except those linked to transparency and accountability.”
He wanted to know why BCCI’s was reluctant to come under RTI. “People of the country have a right to know how public money was being spent as the Cricket Board gets indirect government benefits like tax exemptions and land. BCCI cannot give the excuse of being an autonomous body to escape RTI scrutiny, it should consider itself a public authority under the RTI Act as it directly or indirectly benefits from the government. We are just saying that information regarding accounts and functioning of the organisation should be given to the citizens, particularly when you are sending Indian teams outside for tournaments, what is the problem in giving information to the public? If you talk about resources or grants, there are some indirect benefits. For example, did the DDCA have to pay for the land for Ferozeshah Kotla Ground? Whenever matches are organised, they earn in crores (of rupees),” he said.
There is no question of government taking over the sports bodies “But it(government) has a right to make them (IOA and NSF) accountable and transparent. They are very much aware of the IOC charter and need not to be told about it.” What is wrong in age and tenure limit, If there is a retirement age for Judges, top officials and top generals why can’t it be for the Sports officials. Maken wanted to know as he vowed to keep his campaign going till this bill is passed.
The IOA and NSFs may have won the first round of the battle but Maken seems itching for a war which these sports czars will find it tough to sustain.
By Harpal Singh Bedi