Parachuting athletes into admin no guarantee for success | Football News - Hindustan Times
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Parachuting athletes into admin no guarantee for success

Aug 24, 2022 08:56 PM IST

Before we argue whether sportspersons should be given a freehand to run federations ahead of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, let’s see whether the decision was in line with any established democratic processes.

Over the years, the Indian government and activists who petition courts to “clean up” sports administration have insisted that roping in ‘eminent sportspersons’ into national bodies is a panacea for all ills, an “elixir of life” on every aspect of administration. The rest of the problems will take then care of itself.

The AIFF House in Delhi.(aiff.com) PREMIUM
The AIFF House in Delhi.(aiff.com)

It was probably this belief that convinced the Committee of Administrators appointed by the court to oversee reform in the All India Football Federation to give 36 ‘eminent sportspersons’ voting rights in its General Body. The world football governing body, FIFA, though didn’t buy into this, suspending AIFF till the CoA mandate was withdrawn and the new changes were repealed.

It also halted the Delhi high court order asking two members of the same CoA—retired Supreme Court judge Anil Dave and former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi—to take over administrative duties of the Indian Olympic Association and conduct elections by giving 25% representation to eminent players in the GB with voting rights.

Before we argue whether sportspersons should be given a freehand to run federations ahead of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, let’s see whether the decision was in line with any established democratic processes.

Every state unit in the electoral college of an NSF represented multiple districts, clubs and players and hence is answerable to them. However, an eminent player directly selected by CoA –as was in AIFF’s case–has no accountability as such. The original draft of the proposed constitution had mentioned that a National Players’ Association be formed to select these representatives but they decided to handpick the players citing paucity of time.

This would be akin to handpicking eminent figures in public life as the elected Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and giving them voting right to decide the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.

The AIFF CoA has been justifying the voting rights to the players, citing the Union Sports Ministry’s National Sports Development Code 2011 clause 3.20, which reads: “Inclusion of prominent sportspersons of outstanding merit as members of the respective sports federations on a tenure basis. The strength of such prominent sportspersons with voting rights should be of a certain minimum percentage (say 25%) of the total members representing the federation and selection of such sportspersons should be in consultation with this Department.”

The CoA probably just exceeded its brief by making it 50%. Even in this provision, the government wants a role in deciding these players' representatives, which is in contravention of the Olympic charter.

Those arguing in favour of these provisions in public, and even in the high courts and Supreme Court insist that handing the reigns to top sportspersons is important for the greater good. This may feel right in theory but does not guarantee that these players would be better administrators than the incumbents.

The bigger question is whether this player power guarantees clean administration.

BCCI, the first organisation to have undergone a course correction through a CoA, is currently headed by an eminent sportsperson who is hanging on to his post disregarding the cooling off provisions in the new constitution.

Those who have followed the vagaries of Indian sports and sportspersons can tell you how self-centred some of these stars can be. While that can be a quality when one chases success as an athlete, it could adversely affect the functioning of the organisation.

There have been enough instances of top players, who are now running academies and are also on selection panels of states and national federations, pushing players from these academies rather than being fair to all.

Some of them have even been guilty of using their position in the federation to lure top players to their academies as it guarantees financial benefits.

For me, the real marker of how much some of these eminent sportspersons respect and care the system can be seen from the way they have been passing on the financial rewards from the government to their coaches and support staff.

The media has reported enough stories where these top sportspersons have made sure the prize money meant for their coaches is diverted to their family members. There have been stories of how prominent players on various government committees have only been pushing their cases and scuttling support to their rivals.

Legendary badminton player Prakash Padukone, who once revolted against the Badminton Association of India and was Executive President for four years, once told this correspondent how running administration was a completely different challenge and not many players are capable of handling it.

It’s not to say that sportspersons haven’t made that switch successfully. Athletics Federation of India president Adille Sumariwala and BAI vice-president Pullela Gopichand have risen through the ranks instead of being hoisted directly into the seat of power, which is the right way to go.

The National Sports Code also provides for 25% reservation for sportspersons in the Executive Committee. Even FIFA supported that provision as it is part of many international federations' mandate.

Even AIFF’s draft constitution circulated in 2019 provided for three eminent sportspersons to be directly elected to the Executive Committee by the Football Players’ Commission. Also, one male and one female member was to be elected by all the registered players to be part of the General Body.

If the courts and the government are serious about empowering the players, they should focus on forcing the NSFs to recognise players’ associations and give them certain rights and let them select their representatives rather than parachuting select eminent players into administration. Even their world federations would support these reforms.

The writer is a veteran sports journalist and an author. Views expressed are his own.

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