Former sportsperons launch signature campaign

New Delhi: The wide-spread corruption and mismanagement in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games here today prompted a group of Olympians and international sportspersons to launch a signature campaign to redeem the country’s lost pride and challenge the existing power structure of Indian sports administration.

The ‘Clean Sports India’ movement, launched by 10 prominent international sportspersons here on June 23rd to wipe out corruption prevalent in various sporting federations and associations, came together to ensure sports bodies were run not by politicians and bureaucrats but by sportspersons.

The advocacy group, founded by former Equestrian champion BVP Rao and international athletes Ashwini Nachappa and Reeth Abraham, among others, held a press conference to announce the start of their nation-wide campaign.

While welcoming the swift action taken by the central government to enquire into the serious charges of corruption by various agencies, including the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee headed by Suresh Kalmadi, the group demanded creation of space in federations for former athletes to manage their respective sports with the passion and knowledge they possess.

“The government’s intentions seem to be focusing on corruption and financial losses, which is a welcome sign. But we also want to focus on the accountability of the mismanagement of various aspects of the Games, right from winning of the bid to host Games until the conclusion of the Games,” Clean Sports India said in an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the sports minister and the heads of political parties.

“In spite of our wonderful performance at the recent Games, we feel that with better management by former champions and sports-management professionals, we will do even better in the future,” the letter said.

India’s reputation as the host of the October 3-14 event has been tarnished with the allegations of financial irregularities, gross mismanagement and construction delays in the run-up to the quadrennial extravaganza.

Investigators probing the Commonwealth Games scam yesterday spread the dragnet with 300 Income Tax sleuths carrying out simultaneous nationwide raids on 50 premises of four contractors who executed some Games-related works.

The multi-agency investigations into alleged financial irregularities in the conduct of the games also continued, with the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) probing a complaint related to alleged amassing of Rs 200 crore by a top CWG official, believed to be a close associate of OC Chairman Suresh Kalmadi.

“We have been working hard together to achieve our task of cleaning the sporting image of the country. People are fed-up of the current system and want change. The performance of our Indian athletes during the Games has inspired young athletes and with greater support from the sports federations, India will win more medals next time,” said Reeth Abraham, one of the founding members and a national champion in long jump and heptathlon.

Ashwini Nachappa, former sprint queen said, “The athletes of yesteryears should be given a fair chance to run the sports federations in the country. There is hardly any sports federation in India which is headed by a former sportsperson. We want to bring the change.”

National convener BVP Rao said, “Many politicians across India conveniently agree to hold so called ‘honorary positions’ in Indian sports. But, sadly, except for a very few, none of them possess either the necessary passion for or knowledge of sport to inspire the sportspeople of today.”

“We want all the political parties of India to discuss the issue of giving space to former sportspersons in their own area.

“Most of us, except wrestler Sonika Kaliraman, involved with the movement are athletes who retired in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since those days. The time has come for us to make a difference,” Rao added.

The group also demanded a comprehensive legal framework, which respects the Olympic charter and provides for the true autonomy and accountability of sports federations and the Olympic Associations of India.

Murad Ali, former shooter, said, “We have fought against the system, we worked harder for our rights and achieved what we want. Today, the athletes cannot speak against the system, the moment he speaks he is out. We want sport imperialism should end.”

Prominent signatories to the campaign were Olympians G S Randhawa and Mohinder Singh Gill, 1966 Bangkok Asian Games gold medallist Bhim Singh, Arjuna awardee boxer Raj Kumar Sangwan and woman wrestler Sonika Kaliraman among others.