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Ring of fire play

This was India's most successful year at the Olympics, but by the end of it Indian sport was in freefall. HT looks at the root of this chaos and the ways to stem the rot.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2012 02:11 IST
Nilankur Das

A best-ever medals haul at the London Olympic Games had set the platform for India to look beyond cricket. A little sincerity, intent, putting the bigger cause above personal interest could have already pushed India on the path of a better show at Rio in 2016.

Instead, as things have panned out over the past two months, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) now stands de-recognised by the international body for government interference.


The government has stopped funding the Archery Association of India (AAI) and the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) for not following the Sports Code during its elections. And no matter how convincingly the government tries to sell the idea that it would ensure sportspersons do not suffer till the knots are untangled, it's the athletes who are spending sleepless nights over their status in international competitions.

State Subject
But according to experts, something that lies at the root of this chaos is lack of a definite government structure in sport.

"Sport is a state subject in the Indian Constitution," says Pareshnath Mukherjee, former Bengal Olympic Association (BOA) president and former AAI secretary-general.

"Include sport on the Concurrent List at No 25 along with Education, withdraw Sports Code and get a Bill in place and a lot of things will fall in place," he adds.

Advocate Rahul Mehra agreed. "Only if we have a strong Sports Bill can we get rid of this malaise in sports administration," Mehra, whose plea for an ad-hoc committee of eminent sportspersons and former Olympic medal winners to conduct IOA's day-to-day affairs was squashed by the Delhi high court earlier this month.

Sport is listed on the State legislature at No 33 under Article 246, schedule 7 with theatre, dramatic performances, cinema, entertainment and amusements.

"There is a need to change. But there is a process. A circular (in this case the Sports Code) cannot overwrite the statute," feels Ushanath Banerjee, Supreme Court advocate, who was formerly associated with the Cricket Association of Bengal and is now the president of the West Bengal Badminton Association.

Personal Gains
Mukherjee chipped in saying: "A simpler solution could be amending the IOA constitution so that it follows the Olympic Charter as the Sports Code is not far removed from it. We tried that a few times when I was active but failed. Personal gains have somehow always been the crucial deciding factor."

The same could come in way of a Sports Bill. "It's next to impossible (to get the Bill passed)," said Mehra.

"If there is so much of conflict of interest among top MPs, who also head sports bodies, then it will never be passed in Parliament. People like Sharad Pawar, Rajeev Shukla, Farooq Abdullah and Praful Patel will always come in the way. They should recuse themselves when the Bill is introduced in the House. Even if it is introduced again, there is every possibility that opposition leaders like Arun Jaitley and VK Malhotra might cut across party lines to oppose it."

More Accountability
A government official on condition of anonymity asked: "Under what law is the Union sports ministry spending public money?

Why is it that the federations, which are heavily or partially funded by the government, get away with internal audit of their accounts?

"The Sports Authority of India's (SAI) audit is done by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Bringing sport in the Concurrent List will also get the federations under CAG."

The Parliament Standing Committee on Human Resource Development in 1998 identified the lack of sports culture in the country, the non-integration of sports with the formal education system and the inadequacy of sports infrastructure as three main problem areas.

According to the sports draft of 2007, there was a decline of 5-9% in playfields at schools and access to outside sports facilities between 1978 and 2002.

The China High
In 2000, for which information is readily available, China had over 40,000 grassroots-level sports associations, 3854 urban community associations, 2000 community sports institutions, and over 1,00,000 part-time sports instructors, besides an incredible 6,20,000 sports facilities spread across the country.

"It has to be a concerted effort. Parents and subsequently the schools, colleges and universities have to provide facilities for sport as seriously as they treat studies. And I am not talking of just the government schools and colleges. Private institutions too just can't sit back and make money," Mukherjee said.

"We cannot look at the end product, like China's success in sport, and dream of emulating it at the next Olympics," he added.

India's football icon Bhaichung Bhutia says: "The most important thing is commitment to the cause. To me, the desire to make a change is more important. To make sport healthier, we need to work like a good political organisation, one that reaches out at the lowest level and works up. And, it will help if the people at the top are well connected."

On paper thus, India is just two changes - include sports on the Concurrent List and amend the IOA constitution to follow the Olympic Charter - shy of sorting things out. But the question is whether the government and the federations want it bad enough.