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'Re-entry should be based on reforms'

Hindustan Times brings you the ace shooter Abhinav Bindra's speech that could heavily impact India's return to the Olympic fold.

other Updated: May 16, 2013 02:13 IST
Hindustan Times

As I stand before this gathering today, I know I bring with me responsibility, honor and humility. I have been asked to speak on behalf of the athletes of India, who want, more than anything else, for India to be reinstated into the Olympic fold.

The one area that has affected us athletes since the formation of India's Olympic movement is governance and it will be the focus of what I am going to say today.

As athletes, we believe that India's re-introduction into the Olympic movement must be focused around substantial reform in the way Indian Olympic sport is governed. Because it is the lack of governance itself that has brought India to this pass.

The 'postmen'
The athlete has rarely been at the front and centre of the Indian Olympic movement. The IOA's primary function so far has been to serve as a post office to forward the entries of athletes to various Olympic events.

The only time there is any attention paid to finance or exposure trips for India's Olympic contenders it is in the six to eight months preceding the Olympics.

An effective and functional NOC must fulfill wider duties - they must promote the development of sport and generate funding, independent of government help. It must provide the right direction and leadership to the National Sports Federations.

The IOA has not treated this developmental and leadership role as their main duties; on the financial front, they have failed to tap into an expanding Indian market even as new streams of investment in sport have opened up.

Vested interests
With financial assistance in Indian Olympic sport generated from public funding, there is no pressure on the NSFs to become financially or infrastructurally self-sufficient.

They know it and they have misused that situation to suit their own vested interests - which are to exercise power without accountability.

Every Indian athlete has a story about how they had to hurdle around official bureaucracy and indifference to push their career ahead.

Every Indian athlete can tell you stories about unqualified coaches being sent on tour, about officials who lack any kind of sporting knowledge yet remain in their post for 20-30 years.

National rowers once lived in an animal shed and had to chip in among themselves and buy a washing machine and an air cooler to make their lives more comfortable.

Another incredibly disheartening story is of an Olympian who was reduced to being a push cart vendor. This is unfortunately part of our existence.

Trust deficit
The result is that there remains a trust deficit between athletes and administrators. Many of them don't believe their job is to help us.

We understand we can't control who heads a federation, but what we deserve are administrators who fulfill the ethics of good governance - discredited people across professions should not represent the proud Indian athlete.

We deserve that federations are professionally run which have necessary structures in place, that genuinely care for athlete and sport development; we deserve mechanisms which are accountable and transparent. What we need is a clean system with results being the only determinant.

The issues that have never been effectively tackled range from grassroots sport development to having a fair and free electoral process to having independent ethics and dispute tribunals to athlete representation in decision making.

Our lives, as athletes are unusual, because they are short.

Maybe 10 years, sometimes 15. When our athletic bosses are inept, or slothful, they have a massive impact on our aspirations. They are effectively shortening our life spans and they are amputating our dreams. And sport is nothing without dreamers.

There are hundreds of thousands of young people who wake up early everyday in India, to give their blood, sweat and tears, ready to chase their Olympic dream. There are no guarantees in sport and they know that.

But they need at least the reassurance that the men who control their lives will actually try and help them.

Need of the hour
Indian athletes need to believe that you, the Olympic body, the protectors of this movement and thus the protectors of our dreams, do not just ask the IOA to hold fair elections. But also to demand that they set their house in order.

Autonomy is important but it cannot be treated as an entitlement and as a refusal to be accountable or transparent in the way they work.

It is precisely the reason why athletes believe that reforms in India need to be mandated. It is the reason why the athletes whole heartedly support the Government of India's plans to put a reform process in place.

What the IOC is being told is government interference of the affairs of IOA or NSF's is in fact an active endorsement of the IOCs Charter of genuine Olympism. Anything less will leave Indian sport stuck in permanent quicksand.

The fault lines around Indian sport have been generated by their governors; it is they who should be brought to book.

Not the athletes by being booted out of the Olympic fraternity. The IOA will not change unless it is ordered to by an authority that gives it any credence.

You, the IOC, are that authority. And also our last hope.

First Published: May 16, 2013 00:28 IST