Sports minister Ajay Maken is right. There is no reason why a sports administration body such as the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should not be made transparent and accountable. Even as an 'independent' body, it enjoys subsidies through land leases and facilities from state cricketing bodies, not to mention tax waivers. So, the courts can argue that as an organisation "financed,
directly or indirectly, by the state or central government", it can fall under the purview of the Right To Information (RTI) Act. But even outside all this legalese being now debated, it makes sense for the BCCI - and other similar sports administration bodies - to be transparent in a professional manner. Mr Maken has already faced the familiar barrier of obfuscation and obstruction and he is sure to face more along the way. But at the same time, the Union Cabinet's concerns about the draft National Sports (Development) Bill 2011 is understandable. There are parameters that need to fleshed out in the draft Bill - especially with regard to RTIs seeking explanations into digressionary micro-issues such as questioning a selection process that lie in the realm of subjectivity. But these queries can be easily addressed and solved, now that the initial draft of the Sports Bill has been returned to the sports ministry for amendments.
At stake here are matters pertaining to the accounts of sports bodies and conflicts of interest. A case in point illustrating the later recently involved TV commentators being in the BCCI's payroll; and no one needs to recall the serious fallouts involving the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee directly under the government or the Indian Premier League fiasco last year. As for the bogey of the 'sarkari takeover' of sporting bodies, this is a red herring being used to scare off sports administration reforms in the name of anachronism. What Mr Maken is suggesting is not a nationalisation of National Sports Federations (NSF) including that of the BCCI. He is demanding accountability. But to reassure critics that no government can act on any 'takeover' plans, the Bill should ensure that government non-interference in the NSFs remains the cornerstone of Indian sports administration.
The BCCI's resistance to public scrutiny is not surprising, considering the body has more than its fair share of politicians, not to mention Union ministers. The fact that some of them even attended the Cabinet meeting to discuss the Sports Bill, thereby pointing to a conflict of interest, underlines the need for a less murky set of affairs in Indian sports. There have been many politicians who have contributed positively to sports administration, both within the ambit of cricket and outside. So surely, they understand not only the need for more transparency in such bodies but the logic of having a retirement age and a minimum number of administrators from the sporting world. These are not radical demands but obvious ones to make sports a more professional affair in the country. With some sports administration scandals still fresh in the national memory,
Mr Maken's proposals are not about 'more government' or 'less government'. They are simply about doing the business of sports transparently and deterring bad umpiring.