New Delhi: The bitter dispute over proposed reforms of Indian sports administration in the wake of the shambolic buildup to the Commonwealth Games is showing no signs of abating despite threats that the country of 1.1 billion could be excluded from the Olympics.
A bill to be introduced to parliament this year proposes significant changes, including oversight of election protocols, rules to ensure athletes are involved in administration and provisions to clean up doping and stamp out age fraud across the sporting spectrum.
The reform drawing the ire of most administrators, though, is proposed limits on the age and tenure of leading officials — and that`s where the International Olympic Committee comes in.
Proponents of the legislation say it is long overdue and will stamp out the kind of corruption that led to the arrest of some of the leading figures in the organizing committee for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
"The bill is being opposed by only those with vested interests," India sports minister Ajay Maken said last week as he pushed forward with plans to introduce the legislation. "It is the only way to ensure accountability of officials."
Detractors have described the bill as draconian, saying it impinges the Olympic charter.
Randhir Singh, a 64-year-old former competition shooter who has been the Indian Olympic Association secretary-general for 23 years, warned that the bill could put India in breach of IOC guidelines which prevent government meddling in independent sporting bodies; a stance the IOC reiterated in a letter to Singh.
"The government authorities may make suggestions and recommendations to assist sports organizations in their internal matters and internal governance, if need be, however, cannot force them (by law) to adopt standard mandatory provisions," the IOC wrote.
The IOC issued another statement on India`s draft legislation after a meeting in April.
"The IOC executive board will consider taking appropriate measures and actions which might seriously affect the representation and participation of India at the Olympic Games and international sports events coming up," the statement said.
The focus for Randhir Singh and other long-term serving officials has been on the age limit of 70 and the two four-year term limits for office bearers in national sports federations.
The long, unchecked reigns of sports officials were highlighted as public concerns before graft charges were laid against Commonwealth Games chief organizer Suresh Kalmadi and his close aide Lalit Bhanot.
Kalmadi, a Member of Parliament, was the India Olympic Association`s president for 15 years and fired only after his arrest, while Bhanot was secretary of the Athletics Federation of India for 24 years.
Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who represents the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party in Parliament, has the longest tenure of all those running national sports federations, having headed the Archery Association of India for 31 years.
"Through this bill, the government is trying to take over the federations," Malhotra, the IOA`s acting president, said last month after the national Olympic body rejected the proposed legislation.
Maken, though, contends the proposed laws aren`t radically different from the IOC`s own rules — which limit the age of committee members and impose term limits for the president and executive committee members — and are in line with similar guidelines in other countries.
"We want to have transparency and that can be done legally. Sports bodies should be governed by clear, transparent and fair rules," Maken said.
It is not just those sports which receive government funding that will be affected by the legislation.
All federations will lose the right to represent India if they don`t adhere to the rules, meaning even the rich and powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India will have to fall into line. Although Maken doesn`t think the BCCI has to be concerned.
"Almost all of these guidelines have been implemented by BCCI, including the tenure norms, so they should have no problem," Maken said.
However, the bill also contains the Right to Information Act, under which the BCCI`s finances would have to be publicly disclosed.
Former India field hockey captain Pargat Singh leads a new `Clean Sports India` organization which aims to combat bad administration in sports, and has welcomed the proposed laws as offering "a new direction in sports."
"Officials don`t want to leave their posts, but they can`t go on forever," Pargat said.