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Fitting the bill

Enough of toying with athletes, the Sports Bill could usher in a welcome change, says Navneet Singh.

cricket Updated: Dec 26, 2011 01:55 IST
Navneet Singh
Commonwealth Games

A year after the success in the Commonwealth Games at home, and with the London Olympic Games looming, 2011 should have ideally been the time to take stock and goad the country's athletes into bigger achievements. However, the year was marred by the doping saga involving athletes who had won laurels at the CWG and Asian Games and were expected to make the big leap in London. Also, sports federations, which were supposed to lead the way, spent a lot of energy opposing the sports ministry's attempt to bring in a Sports Bill.

The government feels the Bill will help end the opaque functioning of the federations, which draw huge sums as grants but are not professional. Many federation chiefs have clung on to their posts for ages, leading to allegations of nepotism where athletes are the worst sufferers.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/26-12-pg-17a.jpg

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA), along with its affiliates, claims the Bill would lead to government interference and that it can even invite sanctions from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Although sports minister, Ajay Maken, failed in his initial bid after the Cabinet rejected the original version, he is confident the revised document will get the approval.

The effort to rein in the federations is not new. An early attempt was made by then sports minister, Uma Bharti, more than a decade back. However, that fell through with the opposition from federation heads, many of whom are also influential politicians, proving too strong.

So, what changed during the year? The public perception for one, since India won three medals, including gold, at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. There is an urgency to improve things, and many, including leading former sportspersons, believe India is in dire need of an overhaul of the system of sports governance. The CWG, with its share of high and low points, only reinforced that.

There are few federations that have shown the inclination to change their style of functioning. The same group of people has clung on to power, leaving little room for fresh ideas. There have also been tussles with the ministry over the handling of accounts as well.

Closed to ideas
Ageing sports administrators, instead of allowing younger people to run the show, stick to ideas that keep away the corporate world from investing in sports other than cricket. But for government dole, India's international participation would be almost non-existent.

Often, state units exist only on paper, as decisions are made by a handful of people in the national federations. As a result, grassroots development has been bare minimum. For instance in shooting, which gave India back-to-back medals in the last two Olympic Games, the national championships hardly throw up fresh talent. "It's because there aren't any development plans in place," says an international shooter who has been on the national scene for over a decade.

Besides, there are tales of shabby treatment meted out to top players. Despite finding a place in the national squad, a female wrestler, who is a prospective Olympic medallist, had to grapple with a federation official to board the flight for the World Championships in Istanbul. The event was an Olympic qualifier.

While nepotism is rife in sports administration at the national level, things are worse at the state level. In some cases, one family runs the show. For example, Rajeev Mehta, president of the Uttarakhand Olympic Association and his family virtually dominate various state units.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/26-12-pg-17c.jpg

This explains why there is far more support than opposition to the Sports Bill, although legislation cannot be the answer to ills plaguing Indian sport. Maken is heartened by the way the public, and former athletes, have backed it. He is confident he will have his way in the new year.

With the Bill becoming law, say international sportspersons, there will be sweeping changes in the functioning of federations. The key change it would bring is curtailing the tenure of top office-bearers to two terms at a stretch.

The Bill also seeks to cap the upper age limit of top office-bearers in national bodies to 70 years. After completing two successive terms, the members may stand for election after a minimum gap of two years; and election of federation presidents shall only be by secret ballot.

The Bill incorporates aspects of sports law from countries like the US, France, Malaysia and China. Maken rejects allegations that it is an attempt to interfere with the functioning of federations. It also seeks to address burning issues like doping, age fraud and sexual harassment. The legislation would also guarantee 25 per cent seats in a federation's executive to former sportspersons.

Right to information
The Bill will bring all federations under the ambit of the Right to Information Act. While some have welcomed the initiative, the BCCI, in particular, has opposed it. Some of the other major federations are also against it, despite the revised Bill not requiring them to furnish information on the physical fitness of players. "The players objected to it saying it will give advantage to others. So, we removed it," says a ministry official.

Restructuring SAI
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) has, for long, been dubbed a 'white elephant', and its restructuring has been planned in 2012. As chairman of SAI's governing body, Maken is aware of the need to revamp its administrative setup. "We're planning for a better delegation of powers in SAI," he says.

The government has decided to free the National Institute of Sports, Patiala from SAI. "The plan is to make NIS the hub of academics where research can be carried out. We want Patiala to produce world-class experts and reduce the need for foreign experts."

There are very few federations which spot and groom talent at the grassroots level. Players are on their own until they are selected for national camps, and this happens only after they perform well in national events. So, there is demand for private sports academies too.

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