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Who will march for India now?


The Indian contingent during the opening ceremony march past at the London Olympics. Will such scenes become a thin g of the past?

Take a look at the new list of office bearers, elected mostly unopposed, of the Indian Olympic Association or the Bharatiya Olympic Sangh. The election was declared null and void by the International Olympic Council, still the 40-member list starting from president Abhey Singh Chautala to the last member in the executive council, PK Pradhan, is packed with politicians and not-so-successful businessmen. It is difficult to find a single member in the panel who has represented India in any international meet of repute. Some of the members may take offence if you ask them about their credentials to manage Indian sport but the truth is that the IOA and consequently state associations, for that matter all sports, were mostly managed by those who showed more skill in manipulating and who cared two hoots for accountability and transparency.

It is precisely this aspect of the working of the IOA that earned it the certificate of "bad governance" from the IOC and that led to IOA's ban on December 4. The punishment may not immediately put Indian athletes in grave danger of missing the next Olympic Games scheduled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016 but will surely affect them in one form or another. It is clearly written in the IOA constitution that, "The Indian Olympic Association, being part of the Olympic movement, undertake to respect provisions of the Olympic Charter, the Olympic movement, the Anti-Doping Code and to abide by the decisions of the International Olympic Committee. " And by going ahead with the elections, the IOA bosses have done nothing but violate their own constitution.

Now going by Chautala's words, the IOA went ahead with the elections, disobeying even IOC, as per the Delhi High Court directions but he forgot that the same court had also made it clear that the government guidelines with regard to the provisions of the National Sports Code - in respect of age, tenure and representation of athletes - are legal, binding and enforceable and are not in violation of the Olympic charter. As per the IOA constitution, "It shall be a mandatory requirement for elections to the posts of President and Secretary-General that only those members, who had held the office and were members in the Preceding Executive Council of the IOA for four years, shall be eligible to contest the elections. " Which means none of India's top athletes including PT Usha, Dilip Tirkey and P Gopichand will be able to contest even the next IOA elections as Chautala made it clear that the trio's role will be limited to that of advisors. The only positive was the formation of a nine-member athlete commission but with the stars getting only advisory roles and the athletes commission defunct body in the last few decades it remains to be seen who will all be part of the new commission.

A 37-year-old debate

The government's effort to clean up the sports bodies goes back to 1975, the year in which India won the hockey World Cup, when the Education and Social Welfare ministry headed by Sayid Nurul Hassan, more famous for setting up the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ISSR), wrote to the National Sports Federations on the need to improve the standard of sports in our country and laid down conditions for financial assistance for the national federations.

"There has been growing criticism in Parliament, press and otherwise, of the low standard of sports and games organised. The fact remains that the primary responsibility for the development and management of sports and games in the country, especially as the necessary base for competence in competitions overseas, rests with the Indian Olympic Association/the National Sports Federations/Associations. That the efforts of some of these organisations have at times fallen short of the country's expectations, leading to wide spread public concern, raises the question of necessary remedial action. Government is aware that the various national organisations dealing with sports and games have autonomous functioning;they have no desire to interfere either with the internal working or the autonomy of these organisations. The Government of India have carefully considered the matter, in consultation with the All India Council of Sports, and have decided, in the interest of promotion of sports and games, that Government's financial and other assistance shall be extended only to those national organisations dealing with sports and games which fulfil the following conditions, " the ministry wrote, prescribing a tenure of eight years for the principal office bearers.

It also said that "the guidelines have been finalised after careful consideration of the points raised by the Indian Olympic Association, National Sports Federations, consequent on issue of this Ministry's earlier letter dated April 9, 1974. The views expressed by these organisations have been accommodated to the fullest extent possible, consistent with the purpose for which the guidelines are prescribed. " The letter dated September 20, also said at the request of IOA as a special case gave it time till January 31, 1976 to change the constitution and implement the guidelines.

Though Hassan continued as minister till March, 1977 nothing changed in the IOA or the Federations. In the next three decades - the ministry of sports was set up in 1982 - the government issued three more guidelines in 1988, 1997 and 2001 and till date 20 ministers succeeded Hassan in the post. But the IOA continued as a big family warding off any pressure to be more transparent. After Bhalendra Singh, father of Randhir Singh, who was at the helm from 1960-76 & 80-84, Chautala is only the fifth person to be the president of IOA as unopposed elections became a norm after every four years in the last six decades.

The last time there was contest for the IOA president was in 1996 when Suresh Kalmadi took over from B Sivanthi Adityan and the Pune politician continued in his post till this week. The National Sports Development Code of 2011 introduced by the Ministry of MS Gill was the latest effort to change the working of IOA but when it went before the cabinet the sports code was majestically dumped. So part of the blame for the current mess should also go to the Manmohan Singh government which allowed things to drift just like it did during the conduct of the Commonwealth Games when it failed to check corrupt officials. So the halfhearted efforts continue even after 37 years.

The ban by the IOC citing "government interference" and "bad governance" should be looked upon as a blessing in disguise to check the weeds in IOA. As per the IOA's accounts it get financial assistance to the tune of Rs 2 crore from the IOC. But the common question is, where does it all disappear? The latest decision in the run-up to the elections to hike the allowance of members attending IOA meetings is an example of how funds are being misused. The travel allowance was enhanced to provide air fare to all (earlier it was 1st AC in train and air tickets for those in North East). The special AGM, held on October 18, also decided to enhance the boarding, lodging and local TA to Rs 7, 500 from Rs 1, 000. Even those members based in Delhi also got a hike as their TA/DA was doubled to Rs 2000 (from Rs 1, 000). So multiply Rs 30, 000 (approx) with 141 (of the 183 who cast votes) and you will get the new astronomical figure needed to take care of the voters. A corrupt and opaque set of officials in the IOA will only act as a shield to similar officials who run the show in various other sports bodies.

Talk to any sportsperson and they will have a hundred tales of official apathy to share. And they will all admit that the few Olympic winners from the world's second most populous country triumphed only due to their own hard work as they overcame all the hindrances. For every medal winner there surely must be hundred others equally good but who never got noticed. Now that the axe has fallen, there is fresh hope that it is all for the best, which will result in a revamped IOA that actually meets the two main objectives of its own constitution - "to collaborate with schools and universities and take steps for the creation of National Olympic Academies. "

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