Chick pics

My admiration for my good friend Sreenath Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs and Professor at the Columbia Journalism School, is unstinted. And it largely owes to the immense dedication he brings not just to his work but to his self-appointed mission of being the chronicler-in-chief of all things desi in the United States and beyond.

Here’s Sree’s latest find.

Good job with that disclaimer: “I told my wife when we were married 10+ years ago, anything you find on my computer, that’s research.” Good job, cos said wife — Roopa Unnikrishnan — has to her credit a gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and silver at the 1998 World Shooting Grand Prix, among a host of other awards.

In shooting.

And don’t let the subject matter of her blog fool you — Roopa still has that look in her eye.

Meanwhile, the good folks at Sepia Mutiny have more on Sonia Dara, swimsuits and such.

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The Public versus Indian sport

Suresh Kalmadi has been head of the Indian Olympic Association for 15 years and counting. Professor VK Malhotra has headed India’s archery association for an incredible 31 years now. Sukhdev Dindsa’s stint with the national cycling body is 14 years and counting. J S Gehlot has led the kabbadi association for 24 years and Digivijay Singh has performed a similar role with shooting for 10 years. Abhay Singh Chautala is the chief for boxing (8 years), KPS Gill has been in charge of hockey for 14 years; Captain Satish Sharma, of Sanjay Gandhi era fame (or infamy) has been in the leadership position of the national aero club for 24 years. Rajesh Tiwari is, for 13 years and counting, the head of the national power lifting body; KP Singh Deo is head of the national rowing body, a post he has now held for 9 years…

What does this tell you?

Every single sports body in this country has been systematically converted into the personal fiefdom of politicians; these politicians have de facto tenure for life irrespective of performance or lack thereof.

This fact is at the heart of a Public Interest Litigation that has now been filed in the Delhi High Court by advocate Rahul Mehra, who earlier had hit the headlines for his PIL against the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Long time readers will be familiar with his name and with the BCCI case; for those who are not, these stories, in date-wise order, will provide some background: Help the BCCI clean up its act; Be the change that you want to see; Decontrol cricket.

While the PIL itself has now been admitted and is hence sub judice [and therefore cannot be shared in full], these are the salient points:

Rahul Mehra points out the obvious — that national sports bodies are run not by sportspersons or trained administrators, but by politicians none of whom have shown any interest in furthering the cause of the sport in question; that election to these bodies is fatally flawed, and the rules are designed to keep out sportspersons and able administrators and to facilitate the election of politicians and those whom they seek to favor; that these politicians use national and international events to further their own cause.

In this connection, the PIL points out that during the Sydney Olympics, politicians heading the various Indian sports bodies were hosting parties to canvass support for their candidatures for the ensuing IOA elections]; that increasingly the elections to these bodies have become avenues for large scale corruption, with air tickets, stay in five star hotels and lavish parties coming into play in the run up to the various elections.

The petition points out that the IOA in particular enjoys enormous power of patronage, as it has the power of disaffiliation, de-recognition and suspension of any national sports federation, and that this power has been systematically misused by Suresh Kalmadi and the IOA to further their own interests as opposed to the interests of Indian sport.

Rahul points out that the IOA and the sports federations have been negligent in discharging their duties, with the result that District Olympic Associations, which forms the feeder level for the national bodies, now are largely defunct, participation in school and college level sport is shrinking, and infrastructure is either non-existent or, where it exists, remains inaccessible to players.

Among the examples the PIL sites is that of the Punjab Hockey Association, the basic feeder body of the Indian Hockey Federation that has now been rechristened as Hockey India.  By unwritten convention, Rahul points out, the District Police Chief has been the District Hockey Association President and the Director-General of Police has been President of the Punjab Hockey Association. Thanks to their official duties, neither gentleman has been in a position to pay any attention to developing the sport in their areas — and it is pertinent to point out that during Indian hockey’s heyday, it is from this region that most of the best players came.

Courts have already ruled that sportsmen and administrators, not bureaucrats and politicians, are best suited to run sport. A case in point is Justice Gita Mittal, who in her order dated 2nd March 2009 in ‘Narender Batra versus Union of India’ was scathing on the subject.

Justice Mittal said that National Sports Federations display complete disinterest with the fate of the sport persons or the glory of the sport.  Complete autonomy and arbitrariness in the functioning of NSFs is, she said, being permitted by the government of India, to the detriment of sport. Players and coaches are unrepresented or under-represented in sports bodies; in short, Mittal said, sports bodies are increasingly run for the administrators, and not for the betterment of the sport in question.

Mehra’s PIL, which is meticulously documented, cites from the National Sports Policy of 2007, in which the government spells out the requirements from the various sports bodies, including making available high quality equipment and infrastructure, developing sports science and sports medicine in the country, providing appropriate coaching facilities and trained coaches for the respective disciplines, picking promising young talent and developing them to international levels, and so on.

Citing examples by the dozen [and in Indian sport, there is no shortage of such examples], Rahul points out how the IOA and the various sports bodies have regularly fallen down on these norms, neglected their duties and even, at times, worked actively to the detriment of the very sports they are supposed to further.

Based on all of this, the petition asks the courts for a set of reliefs, that include:

1. Directing the government to set up a Sports Regulatory Authority to resolve complaints regarding financial irregularities, mismanagement in functioning, biased selection and other grievances;

2. Directing the government to ensure that here on, elections to the IOA and other sports bodies are under the aegis of independent observers appointed by the Chief Election Commissioner of India [this, the petition points out, is necessary as the prevailing practice has been for the IOA to appoint its own “observers” and thus continue the charade of free and fair elections];

3. Ensuring that in accordance with established guidelines, no office bearer of a national sports body hold office for more than a maximum of two terms of four years each;

4. Direct the government of India to ensure that it withdraw with immediate effect official recognition, financial assistance and other benefits such as income and entertainment tax exemptions, stadiums on nominal leases, et cetera to the various sports bodies unless they function in a fashion that is democratic, transparent and accountable;

5. That all sports bodies be legally bound to include in the governing structure not less than 25 per cent of prominent sportspersons and coaches from the respective disciplines;

6. That the government of India de-recognize the Indian Weightlifting Federation for having consistently failed to curb doping among the athletes, and thus having brought the nation at large into disrepute;

7. Direct that the government of India start an immediate independent investigation into the functioning and the accounts of the Indian Olympic Association and the various sports bodies that have been made party to the PIL…

There is more, but you get the gist. And high time, too. None of what Rahul Mehra says, in a PIL so extensive and so minutely detailed it takes a good couple of hours to read through, is new to any of us. Yet, for years we have made the mismanagement of Indian sport the subject of water cooler angst, without doing anything to help rectify the situation.

Finally, someone is going beyond talking about it, and taking active steps to bring Kalmadi and his cohorts to account — more power to him. Incidentally, if you want to add your voice to the concerns expressed in the PIL, you can mail Rahul Mehra at mehraandco at gmail dot com

Open thread, and links

So starting today, am off on yet another odyssey — various travels that keep me away from the desk, and on the road, till late Tuesday evening. Blogging likely to be sporadic/non-existent till then.

Leaving this as an open thread for the duration, folks — will post links to stuff I find, as time permits. You do, too. 🙂

#1. For starters, here’s Aakash Chopra on the hows and whys of ball-tampering. Those who make a living out of cricket will tell you that the phenomenon is neither new, nor a virus confined to Pakistan cricket. As below:

I remember being introduced to ball-tampering during my debut first-class season, over a decade ago. Our bowlers were getting alarming movement in the air and off the surface. The ball was rather new (and a new SG ball doesn’t move that much), the track was a typical Kotla track (a batting beauty) and it was the third morning (so no day-one moisture).

I wasn’t playing the game but sitting on the sidelines admiring the quality of bowling on display. When I went in to field as a substitute I realised that our bowlers had tinkered with the ball. One side was still shiny, and even had the manufacturer’s stamp, while the other side was completely scuffed up. Of course they had worked on it beyond imagination, using bottle caps or something equally sharp. I was surprised on two counts: that the umpires didn’t notice the manipulation despite wickets falling at regular intervals (considering umpires get the ball at the fall of every wicket), and that the batting side remained unfazed and didn’t complain. In those days, though, umpires didn’t have so much power or at least they didn’t exercise it as much.

Since then I have realised that ball-tampering does not happen randomly. It is more often than not part of the game plan. Some do it discreetly, while the rest, like Afridi, are either brave or foolish enough to do it blatantly.

Some say it is a craft and I have seen a few craftsmen at work in my time. The use of nails, especially thumbnails, comes in handy. One cricketer used to do it so subtly that you wouldn’t know even if you were standing next to him while he did so. We even challenged him to do it while talking to the umpire once, and he pulled it off, like a pro.

Does this mean, as is being argued in this Time Out discussion between Harsha Bhogle and invited guests, that it is time to give level sanction to ball tampering, to ‘rewrite the ball-tampering law’? I don’t know, but I’d like to start a parallel debate: pickpockets are so darn good, they’ll rob your wallet, and even the watch off your hand, while carrying on a conversation with you — is it therefore time to ‘rewrite the law’ on theft?

What has puzzled me about this whole affair is the question of what the umpires are doing. When ball tampering surfaced on the radar, the rules made it mandatory that the bowler or member of the fielding side had to hand the ball over to the umpire at the end of each over. This was not for safe-keeping — the idea was that the umpire would inspect the ball before handing it back to the bowling side for the start of the next over.

I’d think if the umpires did their job — to wit, used their eyes — the most egregious methods of ball tampering would be immediately stymied. For instance, why did it take the third umpire’s intervention to alert the on-field umpires that Afridi had made a meal of the ball? Surely, when the on field umpire gets the ball at the end of an over and sees bite marks on it, that should be enough to tell him something is wrong? And that in turn should have signaled to him that it is time to change the ball?

Every time something goes wrong, the instinct seems to be to write a whole lot of new laws. How about getting officials to first understand and implement the laws that do exist? [For instance, there is a provision that if the ball has to be changed for reasons of tampering, the batting side gets five bonus runs — why, when Afridi did the thing with his teeth, was Pakistan not penalized by the addition of those five runs to the opposition’s total?]

#2. Continuing the look at Lalit Modi’s attempts to redefine the way news providers operate, Nikhil Pahwa on his blog has some useful information — and links to the guidelines issued by the IPL in each of the three years of its existence. Check them out, and you’ll see what I meant in my previous post, about Modi cleverly seeking to push the boundaries a little bit each year.

The ICC hosts cricket; national associations host cricket — and the coverage for all these matches are governed by various norms. For instance, there is a restriction on the number of correspondents that can be assigned from any one news organization — a sensible guideline, since space for the media is finite, and you don’t want a newspaper to send a dozen reporters under the guise of ‘coverage’. There are also restrictions against the use of ‘live’ feeds — which too make sense, since live broadcast is assigned to a particular broadcasting house on payment of a huge fee, and that investment needs to be protected against pirates disseminating that feed.

The norms governing coverage of these events are, long story short, well known and time-honored. What is special about the IPL, which after all is a league run under the BCCI umbrella, that it feels the need to come up with its own set of rules? [Modi, cleverly, tends to wait till the last possible minute before issuing his “guidelines” — a neat trick to force the media, as the clock ticks down to the event, to compromise rather than lose out on coverage altogether].

There has been some back channel talk among media houses, some attempt to organize the major players into a form of organized resistance. But thus far, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no indication that the media will take a collective stand. That’s a pity, because Modi’s “guidelines” need to be resisted by the media presenting a united face.

Consider, for instance, this bit from the guidelines:

A Bona Fide News Media Website means a Website:

  • that is owned (directly and indirectly), run and managed by an organisation whose primary business solely concerns the provision of news to the public; and
  • no material part of that organisation’s business involves the sale, distribution or supply of any goods or services other than the provision of news to the public (and associated advertising placed alongside that news);

I’m no lawyer, but that second clause seems to me unacceptable. Consider that today, any website worth the name — and the traffic — does not depend entirely on news to generate income. There is e-commerce, for starters, and diverse other revenue streams. Why is the IPL concerned with how a website makes its money, as long as an integral part of its business remains the dissemination of news? [Another problem with this clause is its ambiguous phrasing, which then leaves it open to the IPL to interpret it any way it wants. For instance, this clause could be applied to prevent Cricinfo from covering the IPL, no — after all, it does have a shop that sells books and cricket goods, and that contravenes the IPL proscription that “no material part of that organisation’s business involves the sale, distribution or supply of any goods or services other than the provision of news.”

The problem is — has always been — that the media is not united on this [or any] issue. This permits the Modis of this world to whittle away at our rights and prerogatives, taking a mile and then giving an inch as “compromise”.

Anyone talking PIL yet?

#3. Oh good. In breaking news, the ICC has dismissed the BCCI’s appeal to have the ban on the Firozeshah Kotla lifted. Good, because it is high time the BCCI and its affiliated state units start doing their job — which includes maintaining grounds and pitches at match-ready levels — rather than sleep on that job and then, when something happens, use its clout and/or find legal means around justified punishment. The Kotla is actually lucky to get away light –the suspension is only till the end of 2010, so it will not impact on the ground’s ability to host WC2011 games. Since no games are scheduled at the Kotla this year, the upholding of the ban has no direct impact on the ground, but hopefully, this serves as a wake up call for Arun Jaitley and the other DDCA honchos — there is more to running an association than merely turning up in the VIP enclosure on match days, and preening for the media cameras.

#4. Kind courtesy my friend Krishna Prasad, a brilliant read: Garry Kasparov, writing in the NYTimes Review of Books, on chess computers, grand masters, and man versus machine.

[More, later — as and when I find time and interesting content].