It hasn’t been the welcome Jitendra Singh perhaps expected. The Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports has been barely two months in his new job and Indian sport finds itself in a mess. Singh took over from Ajay Maken at a time when India was riding on the high of its most successful Olympic showing. So far, Singh has seen the suspension of the Indian Olympic Committee by the International Olympic Association and the derecognition of the boxing and archery federations. Indian sport has been managed haphazardly in the past as well, but Singh is confident of resolving the current issues and improving its standard. He talks to Aabhas Sharma about the challenges ahead
What prompted the government to derecognise the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) and the Archery Association of India (AAI)?
AAI violated the age and tenure restrictions of the sports code. The president [V K Malhotra] is over 70 years and he was re-elected. The high court had issued a directive to the government that the association be derecognised if the elections aren’t held according to the government’s sports code. We had no other option but to take this step. The boxing federation has been suspended for conducting flawed elections. It didn’t give candidates enough time for nomination and when the nominations did not come in, people were just picked from the house. IABF and AAI have been told to hold fresh elections.
What do you make of the IOC-IOA mess that is threatening Indian sport?
At the moment, it is important that we look forward and do whatever we can to resolve the issue. The government remains committed to take every possible step to speak with IOA and IOC, but it’s not as simple as it seems. There are a lot of issues that need to be sorted. Sports federations need to follow the sports code.
What are the complications or difficulties that lie ahead?
First, the ministry only has an advisory role and we don’t have the mandate to directly resolve the issue between IOC and IOA. But we will try our best so that our athletes don’t suffer too much. We had spoken to IOA officials and requested them to incorporate the government’s sports code that adheres to the IOC Olympic charter. But, unfortunately, it wasn’t done. We are open to dialogue with the international bodies as well as our own federations to make sure that the right measures are put in place so that we don’t jeopardise the future of our athletes.
Do you think politicians should be allowed to be part of sport bodies and federations?
I believe that we need a strong sports Bill in place. We have been discussing and debating about it for quite some time. We aren’t sure when it will be passed but it is the need of the hour. A strong sports Bill would ensure transparency, which, I think, is essential for a better future.
What is the way forward for Indian sport?
Our top priority are athletes and the young people who aspire to take up sport as a career. We have to ensure they get the best facilities and don’t suffer because of any external factors. And we remain committed to make that happen. If strong steps need to be taken, then we will do what is in our capacity for the betterment of Indian sport.