I am baffled as to why our sports administrators are against the provisions of the draft sports bill, which the sports ministry wants to make into a law. I have as a sportsperson, watched very closely how our administrators function and feel very strongly that we need accountability, transparency and greater participation of sportspersons in our federations, something that rarely happens in our country.
Let me first take the example of cricket, the arena that I know best. I have nothing against politicians, businessmen or bureaucrats who have done a very good job over the years to take cricket to the heights it has achieved in the world. Yet, I feel the board, for its own good, should not shy away from coming under the provisions of the RTI as it will make them accountable to the real stakeholders of the game - the people of this country, because of whose love the game is so popular. What is there to hide when - as the administrators themselves say - they are performing a public service. Cricket is not their personal fiefdom and nor is it a private enterprise. That is the reason why I can't understand their opposition to the bill. It has some very good provisions, the best of them, apart from the RTI and tenure restrictions, being "reservation" of 25 per cent sportspersons in the administration of the game.
I have nothing against Sharad Pawar, in fact I admire him for what he has done for cricket, but when it comes to running sports, especially in dealing with its technical aspects, wouldn't it be much better if a cricketer represents India in the world body, be it a Sunil Gavaskar or a Ravi Shastri? Which laws of the game need to be changed or retained or how much is too much or what is good for the players is best left to those who have played the game at the highest level.
Also, when you look around, you will realise that there are certain state associations which have been controlled by one person for decades, like Saurashtra, which is being controlled by someone like Niranjan Shah for decades now. Closer home, Haryana, the state which helped me climb the first ladder in achieving my dreams, is being ruled by one family for years now. I have myself had a very unpleasant experience when I thought I could contribute with my experience as a player. I was dismayed to realise that instead of welcoming me in their association, I was made to feel as if I was committing a crime. It was obvious that I was seen as a threat to a coterie that controlled cricket in the state.
The mess that most of our non-cricket federations are in need not be highlighted here and the scale of corruption left behind in hosting of the Commonwealth Games has shamed and embarrassed us all. I'd like to give the example of hockey in which we were the undisputed world champs, but due to the shortsightedness of our officials, we are now struggling to stay afloat. Had the federation been headed by a former international player, I am sure he would have seen to it that the astro-turf did not completely replace grass as the playing surface. He'd have immediately realised that the great strength of our players - dribbling - would get nullified on the astro-turf and would have resisted pressures from the international body to eliminate grass. If tennis can still have one major tournament - Wimbledon - on grass, why can't we have an international tournament played on that surface.
That is the reason why it is important to have a large number of ex-internationals involved with the running of sports in our country, something that this bill will help to do. All I can do is to request the Union cabinet & Parliament to pass this bill. By doing so they will earn the gratitude of all those who are concerned with the well-being of sports.
Read what Bhaichung Bhutia thinks about the bill