Ritesh K Srivastava
Having witnessed and covered the entire tamasha over alleged financial dealings in the IPL auctions, the national media has now shifted its attention to a tug-of-war which has started between the government and heads of various sporting federations in the country.
What has stroked tension between the two sides is a move from Union Sports Minister Manohar Singh Gill to fix the tenures of head of India’s sporting federations – mostly occupied by high-profile politicians and corporate honchos.
The Sports Ministry’s new ruling that heads of sports federations, including the IOA, cannot remain in their posts for more than 12 years or beyond the age of 70 has baffled a bunch of politicians, who have now united on the issue- cutting across the party lines.
There is little doubt about Gill’s intentions as it aims at ending the long and uninterrupted rule of these politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats, who have turned their respective sporting bodies into their personal fiefdom.
The Sports Minister, who is known for his tough image as a strict administrator, has certainly done a great job in ending the monopoly and the dictatorship of these politicians controlling various sporting federations for decades.
Gill has won praise from several quarters for taking up the tough task of cleaning the Aegean Stables in Indian sports and his move is being appreciated as something that was long overdue.
The national media, political parties and several former sports persons have welcomed his decision, which they believe, will uplift the status and image of various sports in the long run.
As it was every ones’ guess, the decision has badly rattled Congress party leader Suresh Kalmadi, who has been at the helm of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for the past 14 years (since 1996).
Among other who have ridiculed Gill’s move are main opposition BJP’s VK Malhotra – head of the country’s Archery federation - for 31 years, former sports minister and Akali Dal MP Sukhdev S Dhindsa, who has presided over cycling for 14 years.
Besides, the decision has left VK Verma heading Badminton for the past 12 years, Congress MP and former Union minister Satish K Sharma heading Aero club for the past 24 years and businessman BS Adityan looking over Volleyball for 12 years, fuming.
Others who have been ruling NSFs for nearly a decade include independent MP and former Union minister Digvijay Singh (shooting), INLD leader Ajay Singh Chautala (table tennis), his brother Abhay Singh Chautala (boxing), former Union minister Yashwant Sinha (tennis), Mr Ashoke Ghosh (kho kho), senior Congress leader K P Singh Deo (rowing) and KN Kapur (swimming).
Kalmadi slammed the ruling as “draconian” and an “assault on the autonomy of the federations”, where as Malhotra has called it a “ridiculous decision” which made no sense. IOA secretary-general Randhir Singh, a member of the International Olympic Committee, has even said that Gill’s move “violated” the Olympic charter and could lead to sanctions from the International Olympic Committee.
Upping the ante against Gill, the chiefs of sporting federation, led by Suresh Kalmadi, have blamed the Sports Minister for working with “malicious intention”. They have accused him of announcing the tenure limits at a time when preparations are at full swing for upcoming Commonwealth Games in October.
Sensing the threat to their personal fiefdom they have even sought Prime Minister’s intervention, who has reportedly maintained a status quo till the Commonwealth Games.
The sports minister, in his defence, said that he has not brought any new ruling, instead he had tried to restore the 1975 regulation of the then-government by removing an improper roadblock put in August, 2002.
As the situation stands, the blame game continues between the two sides. It appears that those crying foul are only interested in protecting their positions, which they have held indefinitely.
Barring a few exceptional performances by some of our sportsmen in the recent times, the Indian contingent has repeatedly failed at the mega sporting events. At a time when less developed countries are dominating in their chosen sports and are being crowned as world champions, we still battle to finish in the top ten lists.
We are still far behind the US, Russia, China, Japan and other nations which rightfully boast themselves as sports superpower besides their economic and technological prowess.
The current genre of politicians deciding the fate of sports in India have wasted public money during their tenure and have spent more time with their family members abroad just in the name of meeting their foreign counterparts.
The focus of these high-profile persons should have been on providing necessary equipments, facilities, training and regular counselling leading to mental toughness of our sports stars so that they can compete with their foreign rivals.
On the contrary, these politicians have done little to support their continuance in their respective federations since they have failed to improve the state of sport. If they genuinely wished to improve the sports that they represent, they would have quit much earlier, paving way for more dedicated persons from the sports world itself to do the job.
Ideally, there should be no politics over sports, and the politicisation of the same must be avoided. Casually viewing, there is no harm in a politician becoming the head of a sport federation but then he must also be made accountable to his job and the performance of his team at international levels must be debated.
At this juncture Gill’s decision appears to be a step in the right direction, which will eventually bring better people to take control of the sporting federations, interested only in the betterment of sports and nothing else.