What is wrong with India as a sporting nation? Thanks to the well-embedded nepo-sports mafia holding the Indian Sports to ransom, it is time to crack the whip in a New India
The Sports Ministry withdrew provisional annual recognition granted to 54 National Sports Federations (NSFs) on the directions of the Delhi High Court, which asked it to maintain status quo till further orders
One can plan and fail, but one cannot fail to plan’-our physical education teacher often used to hammer this in our ears when we started our day every morning. Indian sporting eco-system failure to plan in a coordinated manner engaging all the stakeholders has brought Indian sports to a unique crisis situation today. In an unprecedented development, the Sports Ministry withdrew the annual recognition of all National Federations, following a Delhi High Court diktat on the matter. The decision comes on the back of a decade long court case about the governance issues within the federations. Earlier this month, the Sports Ministry had extended the federations recognition until September 30, 2020. However, they were forced to reverse the order.
What does this mean?
Firstly, the decision will have an impact on India’s preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. As per Narender Batra, president of the Indian Olympics Association, ‘We are looking at the implications of it. I don’t know whether the camps can start or not. How the government will fund and this is the decision regarding the NSFs, and what has been banned in court, and what permission has to be taken from court? And, if day to day permission is required, then we have a serious problem and I don’t think we should then look for any medal in 2021 Olympics because no preparation can happen’.
Secondly, the decision has already disrupted the NSF’s plans for national camps and training of their athletes post-lockdown. Though the Sports Authority of India (SAI), with all right intents, decided to restart sports activities on behalf of the suspended NSFs, but it is handicapped by the fact that conducting the national camps has predominantly been the NSF’s work area. For instance, SAI, in a release on the Karni Singh Shooting Range stated, ‘With an eye on the Tokyo Olympics, the SAI is opening its facility for the Olympic-bound shooters who form part of the core team of Indian shooting’. However, later in the evening, the Target Olympics Podium Scheme division of the SAI had to send out a mail to the shooters communicating, ‘this is for your kind information if you are desirous of training there (KSSR), all desirous athletes have to book training slots at the KSSR range for the same. Ammunition will be provided’. Here the word ‘desirous’ needs to be emphasized. Lockdown has already hampered athlete’s preparation for the Tokyo Olympics and every day in the run-up to the Olympics matters a lot. Any impediment, in the post lockdown period, needs to be certainly avoided. Moreover, if in such a crucial year, SAI gets tied up with micro issues, it would hamper its broader functions and much larger objectives. Unfortunately, all this has come at the time when SAI has kick-started its process of reinvigoration and reform and shape itself as a dynamic organization which could bring about transformative changes in Indian sport.
Thirdly, if the problem continues for some more time, it could even go to the extent of players facing a ban. There are elite sports related to NSFs, who are Olympics, World Cup or any other events bound. Once these events resume after the pandemic crisis is under control, and the athletes say that they will participate in the event and somehow they don’t get the permission or the permission gets delayed, the concerned athletes will have to face ban for not participating in the event. Lastly, if the stalemate escalates beyond this, we will be staring at the possibility of the Indian contingent participating under the IOA flag in 2021 Olympics. This certainly, will be the last thing any of us would like to see.
Where does the problem lie?
Narender Modi Government has shown determination and resolve to approach most of the legacy issues facing the nation. Time has come to approach the legacy problem in Indian sports with a similar approach. In May 2014, the situation related to the deep-rooted problems in the governance of sports federations had reached the stage where the Delhi High Court came out with one of the most scathing judgment. “Sport administration, the way it is run in India, through coteries, cabals, manipulations and intrigues, seems to discourage a vast majority of the population to devote itself to athletics, shooting, judo, table tennis, gymnastics, soccer, boxing, fencing and the like’. The Indian Olympics Association (IOA) had earlier filed a writ petition against the Union of India, saying certain provisions of the code were beyond the jurisdiction of the government. Ideally, after such a scathing observation, the three involved parties, i.e. IOA, NSFs and the Sports Ministry would have worked in tandem to work out on National Code for Good Governance in Sports. Unfortunately, IOA has been fighting tooth and nail to deflect attempts for reforms through the Sports Ministry-promulgated National Code for Good Governance in Sports.
While the first government formed guidelines from NSFs came in September 1975, from there till date we have failed to agree to a permanent set of regulations. The guidelines were revised in 1997 and issued in 2001. But after an outcry by IOA and NSFs against certain stipulations, the government had to buckle under pressure. A similar attempt in 2007 too was stalled. In 2011, the Ajay Maken-headed Sports Ministry placed a draft of the National Sports Development Bill before the cabinet, which promptly rejected it. Then, a National Development Code was introduced in 2011. In 2017, a strong code was drafted by a committee that comprised prominent sportspersons like Abhinav Bindra and Prakash Padukone. The nine-member panel included Narender Batra, who was associate vice president of IOA then. But, the IOA headed by him rejected the same.
The IOA significant objection points mainly relate to age limit of 70 years for officials, tenure cap, bar on the voting rights of state Olympic bodies, mandatory representation of athletes in governance, cooling-off period, and bar on politicians/government servants, a bar on immediate relatives of officials and audit accounts. The IOA and NSFs have rejected the 2017 draft code, primarily citing these reasons.
What is the way forward?
Firstly, the stakeholders of the Indian sporting eco-system need to accept the fact that we have underperformed in terms of our sheer size and potential in the Olympics sports in our journey till date. Whereas an individual Michael Phelps, has 28 Olympic medals including 23 gold, in our entire Olympic journey, we have 28 medals as the country out of which 9 are gold medals. Moreover, we have only one individual gold medal winner in Abhinav Bindra. Collectively, it implies that all the stakeholders of Indian sports need to admit that we have been wrong in our approach, and a major course-correction is required.
Secondly, the intent of all the stakeholders of the sports should be to unlock the huge potential in Indian sports and take it forward. Immediately, this means, removing all the impediments so that our athletes are able to put in their best preparations in terms of Tokyo Olympics 2021. In the long run, it means creating a sporting eco-system where our athletes are able to be among the top sporting nations of the world. Thirdly, all the stakeholders, including the honourable court, needs to move ahead in terms of the much-required reforms learning from our previous experience. Amongst the Indian sports federations, hardly anyone would differ that BCCI has been one of the best, if not the best in terms of performance and broader structure. But, here also, though the Honourable Supreme Court of India approved committee came out with the model constitution and oversaw its implementations, many of the important provisions are still a work in progress. It implies that any reformist path in all the sporting federation could be incremental and not drastic and all of a sudden.
Fourthly, the Government of India and sports ministry has shown a sense of purpose and intents in bringing about the transformative steps in the last few years. This includes Fit India Campaign, Khelo India Games, the constitution of the task force on India’s preparation for the next three Olympics games, recommendations of the task force and their execution. For instance, professionalism and a sense of purpose is being brought about in SAI, ceiling on the payments of the coaches has been waived off and their tenure made co-terminus with the Olympics to attract the best of the talent, emphasis on the indigenous games and each state asked to adopt a sports each to name a few. Lastly, an omnibus plan with time-bound detailed execution path in terms of better governance for better efficiency in different federations needs to be worked out. The proposed sports code should be athlete-centric and should confirm to the best of the international practices. The federations should be receptive to the changes in terms of fixation of tenures and bringing in professionalism. No one can stop the idea whose time has come. New India is impatient to find its rightful place, and no one can afford to come in its way.
In all this, I would like to conclude with the mantra which our physical education teacher used to give to our football team before every match. Don’t play for the draw. If you keep on passing the ball from here to there thinking of the draw, you will definitely lose the game. Go for the win. Likewise, we have been passing on the problem related to the Sports Code and governance in federations from here to there for decades now thinking that the problem will die down. Let us take this problem head-on and try to solve the legacy issue. After all, this government has perfected the art of solving one legacy issue after the other in different fields of governance.
(The writer is a senior journalist and Channel Advisor, DD Sports)