Before one looks at the battle between the Union Sports Ministry and the various national sporting bodies only as a ‘war for independence’, it would be good to remember that the main issue on the table is about fixing the tenures of the heads of these sporting bodies. Only those more comfortable working in a feudal structure — with or without its accompanying benefits for the sport the body represents — would want to oppose the sports ministry’s order to limit the terms of those in these organisations and set a retirement age of 70.
The fact that many, if not most, of those at the helm of these bodies happen to be politicians should not dilute or concentrate this demand for a fixed tenure. As in any professional organisation, transparency is a key element for its proper functioning. Even as many would argue that a good administrator should be allowed to conduct his affairs in perpetuity, the problem is that no one, in the very real world of Indian sports or beyond, would be keen to admit that there may be not so good administrators — especially if the people at the top have been in that position for years on end.
The names of personages like Indian Olympic Association President Suresh Kalmadi, Archery Association of India President V.K. Malhotra, Badminton Association President V.K. Verma and Judo Federation chief Jagdish Tytler come to mind. Mr Kalmadi, on his part, has reacted to the ministry’s order by speaking about the bogey of governmental uber-control, calling the regulation “an assault on the autonomy of the federations”. This is like the government wanting to correct an oddity in the bodies that it supports — both nominally and financially — and being charged of fettering them in chains.
Yes, with the Commonwealth Games less than six months away, perhaps the plan to set some new rules may have been announced after the event. Changing horses — even tired or errant ones — midstream is neither good for morale or for logistics. But with Indian sports and sports organisations needing a fresh look — especially after the oligarchic mess of the Indian Premier League, which as part of the Indian cricket establishment, lies outside the immediate purview of government — it is hardly governmental overreach to demand that its sporting bodies set fixed tenures (or even managerial criteria) for its presidents and heads. A similar order is warranted from state governments to their sporting bodies where transparency is perhaps even more necessary today than in their national counterparts.