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Not a sporting chance
If you need survival stories to inspire you, look no further than the incredible ability of Indian sports administrators to outlive disasters.
The planet may turn topsy-turvy. There may be earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Tsunamis may rock our coastlines. Whatever happens on December 21, 2012, doomsday, death or destruction, there will be survivors - the administrators of Indian sport.
The late American author Pearl S Buck called the Chinese people 'relentless survivors' because "no one could destroy them". This description fits the men who run sports in this country better. They have survived corruption charges, court rulings, ethical holocausts and jail terms;clinging to plum positions in associations and federations for decades, a lifetime even, displaying a tenacity that would do Boa constrictors proud.
One of the most awe-inspiring abilities of a champion athlete is staying power;that quality which enables him to soak up the pressure and keep with the competition, continuing to engage in a point even when outpaced. Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal is one of the best 'stayers' in modern sport. It's hard to say for sure, but the 26-year-old perhaps drew inspiration from the 68-year-old Suresh Kalmadi's near two-decade reign as president of the Indian Olympic Association. Kalmadi has shown the same tenacity Rafa brings to the court as he rides the slime and grime of his forgettable legend.
Kalmadi, a politician turned sports administrator from Pune, who spent 10 months in jail, after he was arrested by the CBI in April 2011, for his role in the contracts scam of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, was later granted bail by the Delhi High Court. Typically, he upped the ante soon after, making travel plans to London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Fortunately for India, the judiciary stepped in. Kalmadi was told his participation could cause "embarrassment" to the nation. The former president of the IOA refused to be undone, however. He continues to stalk the corridors of power, indulging in political games and firing from the shoulders of his cronies.
Rahul Mehra, a lawyer and sports lover, who forced the mighty BCCI to become more transparent, and who has filed PILs against almost all major sporting bodies in India, demanding that they come clean, said that the men who ran sports in the country have few accomplishments or areas of expertise outside of their insatiable hunger to hang on to power. "These people are so thick-skinned that for them any publicity is good publicity. When they walk out of jail, they give the impression of one who has won a battle rather than someone who remains on trial, " he says.
When asked which body was most rocked by scandal and shame, Mehra paused for a couple of seconds and said with a smile: "That's a very difficult question. I cannot pick just one. "
Kalmadi's right-hand man Lalit Bhanot was secretary of the Athletics Federation of India for nearly 25 years. Any plans of a silver jubilee celebration was scuttled by a 10-month jail term, courtesy the Commonwealth Games scam which had earlier trapped his mentor. Now, as the AFI finally looks to tally its scores and go to polls, to re-elect principal office bearers, Bhanot's presence forms the immovable backdrop to an association that has been forced to back paddle.
However, neither Kalmadi nor Bhanot or even cricket's classic, Rahul Dravid could hope to match Vijay Kumar Malhotra, president of the suspended Archery Association of India, for longevity. At 80, he enjoys the distinction of being the oldest sports administrator in the country. He has controlled the functioning of the AAI for four decades. As acting president of the IOA he made a brave bid to keep place for Kalmadi. The 68-year-old head of the Judo Federation of India Jagdish Tytler is low on numbers. He has headed JFI for just two decades.
There are those who have hung on to decorative positions long, long after their last lines were spoken. Randhir Singh was secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association for 25 years. Top cop K P S Gill was president of the Indian Hockey Federation from 1994 to 2008.
Flaunting political and money power is Abhay Singh Chautala, son of a former chief minister of Haryana. He appointed himself chairman of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation for life after heading the national body for 10-years. The newlyelected president of the suspended Indian Olympic Association then promptly drafted in his brother-in-law Abhishek Matoria, an MLA from Rajasthan, as president of the IABF.
Another for-ever-and-ever after story in Indian sport, a staggering take on dynasty rule, is that of the tyrannical Khannas - the father-son duo of Raj Kumar and Anil. Anil Khanna is the newly-elected president of the All India Tennis Association, his first stint as president follows a 12-year reign as secretary. Raj Kumar started off as secretary before graduating to president, spending a total of 20 years running the association. He even has a stadium complex named after him. No player, not even the great Ramanathan Krishnan or his son Ramesh or the highest ranked Indian on the ATP Tour Vijay Amritraj has been accorded that honour.
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