There has been a lot of politicking over cricket in Himachal, be it during assembly elections or the parliamentary poll campaign of the two main parties - the ruling Congress party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. The sports bill passed by the state legislative assembly on Thursday has once again brought to the fore the role of politics in sports.
The government says the bill aims to bring transparency in sports associations and improve their functioning. But it is a fact that sports in the state has never been free from political interference. There has been cutthroat competition between leaders of both rival parties to gain control of sports bodies.
The new legislation has once again shifted the spotlight on the state's sports associations most of which are either headed by politicians or bureaucrats. The Himachal Pradesh Athletic Association is led by Rural Development Minister Anil Sharma, while the veteran Congress leader, Irrigation and Public Health Minister Vidya Stokes, heads the women's hockey association. The Congress' Bilaspur MLA Bhamber Thakur heads the handball association which a parallel handball body is led by Sujanpur MLA Rajinder Rana, who is vice chairman of the state level disaster management authority.
Rajender Rana, who switched over to the Congress and unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections against Hamirpur MP and Dhumal's elder son, Anurag Thakur, heads the state netball association. Former Congress MLA Kashmir Singh Thakur heads the state 'kho kho' association. Balbir Verma, the first time independent MLA from Chopal, now heads the judo association.
Amit Pal Singh, officer on special duty to chief minister Virbhadra Singh, heads the football association. Previously the post was held by Sanjeev Katwal, who was then OSD to then chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.
Virbhadra's son, Vikram Aditya Singh, who is Himachal Youth Congress president and is himself an ace shooter, heads two sports bodies -the HP rifle shooting association and the HP softball association.
Similarly, Thakur heads not only the powerful Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association, which has been in the thick of controversy over its functioning and the grant of land by the government, but also the HP Olympic Association. It was the functioning of the HPCA that had time and again prompted the Congress led government to introduce legislation to rein in sports bodies.
Former Congress Youth Congress president and vice chairman of the forest corporation, Kewal Singh Pathania, heads the state power lifting association. The state badminton association is led by additional chief secretary VC Pharka (principal secretary to CM). Former IAS officer TC Janartha, currently officer of special duty to the CM, heads the state yoga association. Meanwhile, retired chief secretary Sudripto Roy is still president of the HP Golf Association.