The good showing by Indian sportspersons at the recent Olympics really buoyed the nation’s spirits. And many were hoping to build on that. But in what has been a body blow to India’s international sporting ambitions, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) has suspended the faction-ridden Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for flouting the governing body’s charter, especially the rules regarding non-interference by the government and also on ethical grounds. This was really something which was waiting to happen. The sports body has been riddled with tensions and faction-fighting for quite a while now. This has led to a situation where the administrators have been far more busy settling scores than doing the job they were meant to, nurture Indian sports.
There is almost unanimous approval of the action, especially after it became clear that the IOA would go ahead with elections despite repeated warnings that it was in violation of the Olympic Charter. The elections have taken place and senior IOA officials justified the process, pointing to the Delhi high court order directing the polls to be held under the government’s sports code. This bars those above 70 years from contesting for top posts. The presidents of the federations and the apex body cannot seek a fourth term while the secretary, who runs the show, will have to step back after two four-year terms before becoming eligible to seek a third term. It is public knowledge that Indian sports administrators have shown scant regard for the rules, in letter or spirit, and the leadership offered by various sports bodies are antiquated in a world which demands a highly professional approach. This international shame could have been avoided if the government — without whose funding these federations cannot function — had acted. But most sports bosses in India have strong political connections, indeed some of them are active politicians, which have helped them block all attempts to shake up the established hierarchy. There have been several opportunities in recent times to clean up the system, but they have all been squandered away.
What we need is many more professional sportspersons in the IOA and other sports federations. As football ace Bhaichung Bhutia said, there is still plenty of time before the next Olympics. This should be fruitfully utilised to set things right and do the best by our sportspersons who, thanks to the suspension, cannot compete under the national flag till such time as it is revoked. Our sportspersons must not suffer because the IOA cannot get its act together. If the suspension acts a catalyst to cleanse the system, some good will have come of it.