The suspension of the Indian Olympic Association, or IOA, by the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, on Tuesday followed a long confrontation between the two bodies. The last straw for the IOC, however, was that the IOA refused to postpone the election it had scheduled for Wednesday — an election that the IOC claimed was fatally weakened by government interference. For the IOC, wedded to the Olympics’ archaic charter, any form of government interference in local Olympic associations is anathema; they are supposed to be completely autonomous. Hence the suspension of the IOA, which was carried out on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the IOA met defiantly and carried out its elections — though it has said that it will try to avoid further confrontation with the IOC and thus, presumably, negotiate a settlement.
This will be difficult. It is not just that the leadership of the IOA, duly elected or not, does not inspire confidence. The new president is Abhay Singh Chautala, son of the leader of Haryana’s Indian National Lok Dal and former chief minister, Om Prakash Chautala. The secretary-general is Lalit Bhanot, who as a senior member of the Commonwealth Games organisational team in 2010 famously declared that the mess at the Games Village could be a perception issue in that foreign athletes had different standards of hygiene from those of Indians. Both these gentlemen were elected unopposed; voting for the remaining posts was supervised by a three-member team of retired judges. You would imagine that, when the IOC complains about government interference in the IOA, it means that it worries that politicians like Mr Chautala lead the association, and that its other members are chosen by voting from sports associations controlled by various other politicians, sometimes for decades. Actually, that’s not the problem at all. The problem is that the IOC didn’t like the Indian government’s attempts to fix this situation and get powerful politicians out of sports administration.
Indeed, the IOA’s elections to which the IOC objects were ordered by the Delhi High Court, and they were mandated to follow the government’s new Sports Code. The IOC feels the Sports Code is an unjust imposition, a government meddling where it has no right to under the Olympic charter. And what is this new Sports Code, dating to the era of the effective Ajay Maken at the sports ministry, and now agreed to by most of India’s sporting bodies? It requires presidents of sporting associations to limit themselves to three terms; and secretaries cannot hold more than two consecutive terms. There is also an age limit. This essential move to clean up India’s sporting administration is seen by the IOC as an end to autonomy — but the fact that Mr Chautala is president, and it used to be another member of Parliament, Suresh Kalmadi, didn’t worry it. Meanwhile, across the world, national Olympic committees are run by political appointees — most famously by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. And does the IOC wish Indians to believe that, say, China’s Olympic Committee – run by its sports minister, Peng Liu – is “autonomous”? This unreasonable attempt by the IOC to stop even a small step towards cleaner sports administration in India by quoting the ideals of “shamateurism” – to protect the cronyist culture of which it is very much a part – should be resisted.