Indian sport might just get a chance to make a comeback on the international field. The Indian sports delegation’s meeting with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials at Lausanne recently has raised hopes of a turnaround in sports administration. Assurances from sports minister Jitendra Singh and the players’ viewpoint put forward by Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra have evoked a positive response that will result in the global governing body revoking the suspension of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) if it adheres to a slew of reforms. It is a humbling experience for India, to be tutored in democratic values and ethics in sports administration. India is a founder-member of the Asian Games and the men’s hockey team has won eight Olympic titles. If India has not won many Olympic medals in other disciplines, the blame can be largely laid at the doorstep of their self-serving sports administrators, many of whom have clung on to their posts for decades. The IOA was suspended in December after its elections were declared null and void due to the violation of its own constitution. It came after a prolonged tiff with the sports ministry over adhering to age and tenure issues. The suspension has left the country’s athletes a worried lot as they stand to suffer the most if they are barred from competing in major events or stay ineligible for IOC training grants.
The IOC seems to have come around to the view that the government — financial benefactor to all federations — was not trying to interfere in the functioning of the sports bodies but only wants to inject fairness and ethics in their running, issues enshrined in the Olympic Charter. The meeting is a start, and a demonstration by the minister that the intent to change things for the good is strong. The tough part will be implementation. The IOC has insisted on time-bound action in terms of reforms and changes in the IOA statute before a fresh election is held. The IOC ultimatum is an opportunity to purge various federations of powerful politicians and bureaucrats who treat the bodies like fiefdoms. With power concentrated in a few hands, grassroots administration and development of talent have all but vanished. Bindra pointed out how officials make little effort to bring in funds or prepare development plans and instead enjoy power and feed on the tax payers’ money. Despite a more liberal economic climate over the last decade, sponsors are wary of dealing with sports bosses who don’t have a professional approach. The nation’s mood has changed since the 2010 Commonwealth Games brought a lot of embarrassment following corruption charges against senior sports officials involved in its organisation.
The winds of change are blowing across Indian sports. Keen interest is building around games other than cricket. But the big hopes of building on the six-medal haul in the 2012 London Games are already fading. This is a perfect opportunity to turn things around as another opportunity may not come in the near future.