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Deep Focus

The infamous five



ATHLETICS

TOI-Crest takes a look at these five disciplines which have promised much but failed to deliver. They have been mired in one controversy or the other for years and have failed to keep pace with the changing world around them - in India and abroad - due to an unprofessional, self-seeking set-up.


ATHLETICS

The combination of Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot as president and secretary respectively of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) saw Indian athletes make their mark at the Asian level in the 1990s, but the duo's reign was also infamous for the spread of banned drugs as the short-cut to success. Sadly, the menace continues unabated even today.

First to get caught on the world stage was discus thrower Seema Antil. The Haryana athlete, who now holds the senior national record, won the gold medal in the world junior championships in Santiago, Chile in 2000, but tested positive for a stimulant. The athletics world governing body, IAAF, stripped her of the medal and punished her with a public warning.

Then came Sunita Rani's dope shame. She tested positive in the Busan Asian Games, lost her medals and then got them back following a prolonged inquiry. In a further setback, Neelam Jaswant Singh became the only athlete to test positive at the 2005 World Championship in Helsinki. For Kalmadi, who was heading the national and Asian bodies besides being a member of the IAAF executive council, it was a big blot and he soon resigned from the AFI president's post, albeit on the pretext that he has to focus more on the development of the sport in Asia.

Kalmadi and Bhanot's reign also saw the large-scale arrival of foreign coaches from the erstwhile USSR and the Eastern bloc - most of these coaches were allegedly part of the state sponsored doping programmes. Nothing could be proved, but sources say that a number of training-cum-competition trips organised in the run-up to the major events are for "boosting" athletes' chances. This has caught the attention of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is getting more and more interested in the performances of Indian athletes.

- Biju Babu Cyriac


SHOOTING

"We will ensure that he never gets a chance to represent India in the future," a senior official of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) had said two years back, reacting to Abhinav Bindra's interview to TOI where he had blasted the system following his gold-winning feat in the Beijing Olympics.

The statement gives you a peep into the ugly mindset of Indian sports officials. Earlier this year, Bindra had to run from pillar to post to convince the NRAI to consider his international scores for selection in the Indian team for World Cups. NRAI's vindictiveness was not limited to Bindra. Athens Olympics silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and world champion Ronjan Sodhi got a taste of it too when they were not picked for the Commonwealth Championships held at home after the duo along with a few others pulled out of the trials in Patiala complaining that the shotgun range was not up to the mark. Despite the sports ministry's insistence on a retrial, NRAI decided to look the other way.

It's no secret that many shooters are upset with the NRAI's policies, but they prefer to keep their mouths shut due to the fear of a backlash. "In shooting, you are not allowed to complain. You have to live with what you get. If you open your mouth, there's every chance that your career could get over," a shooter told TOI-Crest on condition of anonymity. Earlier this year, the talented Pemba Tamang, Melbourne Commonwealth Games gold medalist, was at the receiving end of the federation's apathy when he was left to fend for himself after he was not allowed to board a plane in Mumbai for the World Cup in China as he was given a stapled visa by the Chinese authorities. Tamang was left looking for accommodation in the middle of the night. Shooting remains India's biggest hope at major events, and it's not the rival shooters but the attitude of the NRAI officials that poses the biggest hurdle.

- Biswajyoti Brahma


TENNIS

Indian Tennis League - ITL. Rings a bell? Yes, indeed, it's an offshoot of the IPL, but just in case you missed the news a fortnight ago, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) announced the launch of a franchise-based league in November-December this year. Five city-based franchise teams, made up of retired international legends, current top Indian and junior players, will compete with each other over a two-week period. And among the names dropped were those of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Marat Safin and Goran Ivanisevic. Sounds like a great spectacle from the entertainment point of view, if it does materialise.

The ITL, as the AITA would have us believe, is also aimed at developing tennis in India - by having our precocious juniors rub shoulders with ex-Grand Slam champions! If champions could be made just by having budding youngsters mingle with retired greats for a few days in the year, the ATP Chennai Open would have helped unearth another Ramesh Krishnan or a Vijay Amritraj in the period of 14 years the tournament has been running without a break.

Development of tennis has never been priority No 1 for those who have been running the sport over the years. And if they still insist their motive shouldn't be doubted, well, they have flopped miserably in their pursuit of making India a force to reckon with in the world of tennis. The cupboard looks as bare as ever it has in the last 30 years. One lady who appeared like a meteor and vanished just as quickly, two ageing doubles champions and a 24-year-old sparing no effort to break into the top-100 of the men's game. That's all we've got to show for. And Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Somdev Devvarman are all self-made performers, not products of the system.

For any nation to prosper as a unit in any sport, a scientific and structured junior development programme has to be in place, wherein the federation identifies an elite bunch of talented kids, takes them under its fold, provides them the best training and helps them find their feet in the professional circuit. The kind of funds needed to run such a programme may not be easily generated, but that's not the main reason why we don't have one. When most of your energy is channelised towards self-promotion, you cannot but lose sight of the bulls-eye. That, in fact, is the nub of the PIL filed recently, challenging the unending tenures of politicians who head different sports federations.

None in the Khanna family has dabbled in politics, but Anil and his late father Raj Kumar have been at the helm of AITA since 1988. Senior Khanna, who was secretary from 1988-1992 and president from 1992-2000, ensured immortality by getting the stadium at DLTA named after him. His son (secretary from 2000 till date) hasn't yet had his name stamped on any public facility, but is showing a greater fondness for the chair.

- Amitava Das Gupta


FOOTBALL

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has often been accused of nepotism and lack of professionalism. Take the case of the recent recruitment carried out by AIFF's secretary Alberto Colaco. He appointed Dempo coach Armando Colaco's daughter Genevieve in the AIFF as Co-ordinator, National Team. In her own words, Genevieve is too young to handle such important projects. "I have only just assisted at Dempo SC during their AFC Cup matches. Besides that I haven't really worked in any club. I have joined the AIFF mainly for the wide range of experience I would receive and I'm looking forward to do a course in sports management," admitted the 23-year-old.

Curiously, AIFF hadn't advertised for this post. The recruitment of Tathagat Mukherjee, whose father happens to be the CEO of Sesa Goa, as Director (National Team) has also raised eyebrows within the federation.

Despite claiming to be a professional body, adhocism seems to be the name of the game in AIFF.

The 'outgoing' secretary Alberto Colaco is still around despite having resigned last June. Interviews were held last September but nothing happened after that. According to sources, the earlier interview process has been scrapped and Colaco has been asked to 'train' a youngster for the coveted post. His detractors allege that Colaco has successfully wooed his critics within the AIFF. Sending 'rebel members' with the Indian teams as managers on foreign tours is seen as a perfect move to keep them quiet. Sources say that with Colaco becoming increasingly powerful in AIFF, quite a few officials left the Football House, apparently "unable to work under Colaco's dictatorship". The notable names include Sukhwinder Singh (marketing manager), Chandrasekhar Jha (working with national team), Goutam Kar (Dy General Sec), and Shaji Prabhakaran (director, youth development and Vision India).

- Mohammad Aminul Islam


HOCKEY

Over the years, controversies, autocratic reigns and heartburns have overshadowed hockey to such an extent that the game has ceased to evoke positive emotions amongst people. Passion continues to reign every time India beats Pakistan or wins a tournament, but what invariably follows is a streak of negativism that tends to bury every bit of good work done. Ever since KPS Gill's entry in 1994, hockey has seen more than a dozen coaches dot the hockeyscape in the country.

Right from Cedric D'Souza to Vasudevan Baskaran, each were dumped without being given much of a chance to explain. The worst fate was reserved for coach MK Kaushik, who was sacked despite leading India to the gold medal in the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. Along with him went the senior players, including Dhanraj Pillay and Ashish Ballal. There was also the interesting case of German coach Gerhard Rach, who quit as coach in 2005, calling IHF a madhouse.

Player egos too have racked the game to a great extent. Dhanraj and Gagan Ajit Singh were involved in the famous standoff during the Athens Games of 2004 while Dhanraj could never see eye to eye with coach Rajinder Singh. What also comes to mind is the player strike for match fees and a better deal in the beginning of this year.

More havoc had already been wreaked in 2007-2008 when Ric Charlesworth stepped into the picture. Finding no backers in the Indian Olympic Association and the government, Charlesworth was involved in a battle of wits with the system before he decided to leave for Australia. Charlesworth's exit was a result of administrative lapses and India's well-advertised hatred for anything professional. That was pretty much the case with the IHF as well, with litigation plaguing their elections. It continued after the ad-hoc body, Hockey India, took over. The International Hockey Federation wants the elections to be held by May. Will it happen? Only time will tell.

- V Narayan Swamy

Reader's opinion (1)

Kumud SampathMay 18th, 2011 at 10:50 AM

The articles remind me of an incident of young swimmer who was representing national team. Even on the day he was leaving for an event, he did not have a kit, tickets and did not know where he would be staying etc. etc. Professionalism, what is it?

 
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