How often do we sit fingers crossed, waiting for another controversy to break out before an Indian contingent departs for a multi-discipline event? If it’s not doping, it’s about an oversized official contingent. If not that, it’s about the kit.
As we delve into India’s pedestrian performance at the Rio Olympic Games, we need to put in perspective the issue of kits that again made the headlines as the 19-odd Paralympians left the Indian shores for Rio.
News is that the official blazers had no white stripe in the middle and the country’s name was missing on the back. The issue was resolved, but not before it further smudged the already sullied image of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
Being the nodal body entrusted with the task of managing the contingent once every four years --- one of the most mundane jobs given that the IOA plays no role in the training and grooming of athletes --- this should be the easiest thing to work out.
But logic seems to go for a toss in an organisation where authority comes without an iota of responsibility. The quality of kits, and their size and suitability have been questioned by innumerable sportspersons. Who can forget India’s top drag-flicker during the 2012 London Games, Sandeep Singh, playing in ill-fitting shorts, its seam threatening to come apart anytime! The gangly Sardar decided to train in an old pair of torn shorts.
Boxer Jai Bhagwan went to the extent of saying in London that this was the worst kit he had seen, lacking in durability and quality.
Pictures of Indian hockey coach Roelant Oltmans buying sticks and shoes for the team in Rio --- the kits had failed to arrive on time --- and the PR Sreejesh-led team skipping the opening ceremony due to lack of official kit, are a testimony to the fact that the contingent of officials has little time to bother about players’ issues given that official parties and jaunts hold precedence.
Now, with Li Ning, the Chinese apparel giant, becoming the official kitting partner, athletes can at least be assured of quality, one feels. However, a foreign partner will certainly demand his money’s worth and expect every athlete to adhere to the contract.
The IOA officials looked the other way as shuttler PV Sindhu brazenly honoured the contract of her personal sponsor, Yonex, much to the resentment of the kit sponsor. The IOA has washed its hands off the issue saying it had informed the Badminton Association of India about the infringement.
Wasn’t the IOA aware of Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter which states that an athlete’s image cannot be used to sell products or promote a brand or company, save for the official Olympic sponsors, who are exempt.
Sindhu and her teammates, by choosing their personal sponsor, could have jeopardised the lucrative contract with the Chinese apparel company.
But then, is the IOA any wiser? One doubts. Its officials are happy as long as their interests are safeguarded. If players don’t get quality kits the next time around, the IOA can revert to local manufactures who are usually happy to get rid of their goods.
Remember the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, when a local apparel manufacturer had offered kits for free plus R50 lakh as sponsorship money? But ignoring the offer, the IOA misused taxpayers’ money to purchase them from the same manufacturer.
The funding comes from the ministry, but such action by IOA leaves one wondering where the money really goes.
Now, that’s what we call enterprise, albeit a dubious one.