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

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24 thoughts on “The Public versus Indian sport

  1. Pingback: Rahul Mehra - Genesis of Sports Activism in India

  2. Dear Rahul, now you are the littel light for Haryana State Taekwondo Association and Taekwondo Fedration Of India plz check these fedrations and position of coaches and players. Please please please

  3. Swimming federation too in syncronised swimming…why appoint a parent as an official so that his or her cchild babd or good gets selected at the cost of others

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