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SPORTS CODE

IOA needs to fathom gravity of IOC's action

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The suspension is a wake-up call for the Indian sports fraternity.

The International Olympic Committee's (IOC) ban on India has come as a huge shock. But this situation seemed imminent with IOC repeatedly asking the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to form an ethics commission, take action against its tainted officials, have a fair and transparent election mechanism and to coordinate with the government to eliminate interference which the world body perceived was being done through the sports code.

Now that IOA has been suspended comes the pertinent question. What are the consequences and what are the possible solutions?

The suspension disentitles IOA to receive funding from IOC, restricts its members to be part of IOC proceedings and directs them not to conduct its elections in the present form. However, contrary to the popular belief, IOC has not prevented the Indian athletes' from participating in the Olympic events. The IOC has merely reserved its right on this issue, meaning that IOA will not have the right to send entries of Indian athletes.

IOC may, during the course of IOA's suspension, be open to participation of Indian athletes through entries forwarded by an Indian athletes' commission or through a temporary caretaker committee, recognized by IOC. Besides this the option of the Indian sportspersons participating under the Independent Athletes flag is also available.

The IOC ban is temporary and is active until IOA guarantees its full autonomy, ensures free and fair elections and implements the basic principles of ethics and good governance. This means that the elections conducted by IOA stands annulled and fresh elections may need to be held unless it is proved to IOC that they took place in a fair and transparent manner as per the Olympic Charter.

IOA also has to comply with the conditions laid down in the sports code, as per the directions of the Delhi High Court. The only way valid elections can be held is by including the age and tenure provisions of the sports code in IOA's statute in a way that they are in conformity with the Olympic Charter.

Once this is done, the amended statute would need to be ratified by IOC before they can be adopted by IOA. Besides the age and tenure caps, the IOA statute would further need to have provisions for incorporation of an ethics committee, athletes' commission, dispute resolution body, measures for representation of women and for proper demarcation of duties and responsibilities of officials.

IOC would also want that IOA's ethics committee's hearings against tainted officials are conducted as per legal procedure and a reasoned decision given.

IOA needs to fathom the gravity of IOC's action and set its governance structure in order. The apparent disregard to IOC's directions as IOA went ahead with its elections mirrors the thought process of the body. Last week's elections have not been recognized by IOC. In fact, these elections may have actually accentuated the threat of IOC cancelling the recognition of IOA permanently in its meeting of the session.

Once a system is in place and free and fair elections are conducted, IOC's objection to government interference and autonomy can be rebutted by filing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sports, highlighting the unequal treatment meted out to India as compared to other nations like United States of America, France, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

The suspension is a wake-up call for the Indian sports fraternity. This should act as a catalyst to revamp the sports movement in India. This opportunity should be used to strengthen the sports movement at its roots.

(The author is a sports law expert and has facilitated the drafting of the National Sports Development Bill. He spoke to V Narayan Swamy)

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