Now that the heads of the country’s topmost sports federations, including the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) which has the power to recognise/derecognise these associations, have come out against Sports Minister M S Gill’s decision to restrict their tenure, the issue is truly joined, and it remains to be seen who comes up trumps. As widely reported, several politicians have been in charge of sports bodies for decades — Congress’ Suresh Kalmadi has headed the IOA for 15 years, BJP’s Vijay Kumar Malhotra has headed the archery association for 31 years, Akali Dal’s S S Dhindsa has headed the cycling federation for 14 years, and so on. Apart from the fact that this violates the law which specifies a maximum tenure of eight years and that no one can head two federations at the same time (if N Srinivasan owning the Chennai Super Kings while being BCCI secretary is not bad enough, he is also the president of the chess federation), there are a host of other problems. Most of these associations are captured by cliques and there is a cosy relationship with the IOA — while the IOA recognises these associations, they get to vote for the IOA’s top leadership. If the IOA is unhappy with any association, it can derecognise it, as it did with the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) headed by K P S Gill, and replace it with an ad hoc committee comprising its own officials. India’s track record in international events like the Olympics makes it clear that these federations aren’t doing too much for the game. At least in the case of BCCI, which is currently in the eye of the storm, it has to be said that Indian cricket has done very well at most global contests.
As a former chief election commissioner, the sports minister knows that he must insist on a fair election process, with voters lists updated and made public, with a secret ballot and an independent returning officer. In the case of Hockey India, that the IOA set up as an ad hoc body once K P S Gill’s IHF was derecognised, M S Gill pointed out that the returning officer was a vice president of the IOA! While M S Gill will fight his battle to have his way — it helps that his action last week was in response to a court order asking the ministry to file an affidavit on the extraordinary tenures of sports federation chiefs — there are some other options that need to be considered as well. Declaring such federations as “offices of profit”, which they indeed seem to be, will ensure that sitting MPs cannot aspire to head them. Putting them under the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) Act is another. If the idea of a sports regulator is not acceptable, each federation must have an acceptable dispute-settlement mechanism. In the case of IPL, to cite a current example, the move to allow the existing eight teams to retain seven of their top players is clearly against the interest of the new franchises like Kochi and Pune — an appellate process within the BCCI set-up, or outside it, would allow Kochi/Pune to challenge this. If politicians and/or sports administrators are not to play games with the sport, the rules have to be clearly defined and the referees, including third umpires, need to be put in place.