At the best of times, Indian sports federations have had a love-hate relationship with the sports ministry. But 2011 saw a protracted war over sports minister Ajay Maken's bid to introduce the Sports Bill to make the federations, including the Indian Olympic Association and the BCCI, more accountable and transparent in their functioning.
Federations cried foul and accused the government of interfering in their functioning and the original version of the Bill was rejected by the Cabinet. Although the revised Bill will not be taken up until the New Year, Maken is confident his efforts to build consensus among Cabinet colleagues will bear fruit, as he tells HT in an interview.
What gives you confidence the revised Bill will be cleared?
We have removed certain contentious clauses from the Bill and, by and large, everybody has expressed satisfaction now. The law ministry has also given the green signal. We expect to get the approval of the Cabinet. Then, we will table it in Parliament and also get the green signal from the standing committee.
The BCCI stand on RTI remains a sticking point. How'll you bring it around?
I'm trying to explore that. It (the BCCI) will be a loser if it doesn't accept the Bill. It has been the most efficient sports federation in the country. But they lack credibility after the controversies in the IPL. If the Board is clean, it should not object to coming under the RTI.
What if the BCCI doesn't agree?
The game of cricket will be the loser. The players represent the country and not the Board, which is like a club. Cricketers will never have the passion to play for the Board; it's always the country that motivates them.
If the Board becomes a national federation, it will enjoy the benefits of income tax exemption. It is only because of its stubbornness that the IT department has cancelled their tax exemption.
How do you propose to improve sports in India?
There is no dearth of funds and the public is enthusiastic about sports. But what is missing is the sports culture. We need a policy to transform interest into performance, so that more people come forward and indulge in some sort of physical activity.
What is stopping you from ushering in the change?
There are three key areas that are responsible for our not-so-encouraging performances in international competitions.
We lack a proper sports science set-up. We don't have a system to update the knowledge of coaches. And, the federations are not transparent.
What are your views on the doping menace and who is to blame?
It is a collective failure. Coaches, the Sports Authority of India and federations should be held responsible. I feel the players are the least to be blamed in a country where the tradition of 'guru' and 'disciple' is still prevalent. Often, athletes trust their coaches and get into trouble.
Your views on the functioning of federations whose chiefs are in jail?
The IOA president is behind bars on corruption charges, but the national Olympic committee (IOA) has not gathered the courage to elect a new chief. This is something the IOA should introspect.
If the IOA does not take a strong stand on corruption, how can it expect the government to show confidence in its financial functioning.