Delhi high court says IOA must hold elections within the next 16 weeks
The court pulls up the apex sports body for not being in compliance with the National Sports Code
The Delhi high court on Tuesday appointed a committee of administrators (CoA) to run the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and bring its constitution in compliance with the National Sports Code, putting a spanner on IOA’s bid to hold elections that are already delayed from December.
Issuing a slew of directions on a plea by lawyer and sports activist Rahul Mehra for better functioning of the IOA, a bench of justices Manmohan and Najmi Waziri observed that all National Sports Federations (NSFs) should comply with the sports code and the International Olympic Committee’s Charter, failing which they will be de-recognised and all monetary benefits and other facilities will be stopped immediately.
The bench appointed Justice Anil R. Dave, former judge of the Supreme Court, former Chief Election Commissioner, SY Quraishi and Vikas Swarup, former foreign secretary to the CoA to govern IOA. Beijing Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, Olympian long jumper Anju Bobby George and archer Bombayla Devi Laishram were appointed as consultants to assist the CoA members.
Criticising IOA for not following the provisions of the sports code, the bench ruled that the maximum term of the president and office-bearers and members of the executive committee will be limited to three terms.
It also said the presence of women athletes should be acknowledged and they should have voting rights in the general body as well as in the executive committee of the IOA.
“Sports administration is not a male preserve. It is a matter of record that in all its 95 years of existence the IOA has never had a woman as its president or secretary general. Surely women do aspire to be in significant positions in the decision-making process. Their presence both in the GB, as well as the EC of the IOA, will lend to fruition of their valid aspirations,” the court said.
The development comes as the IOA grapples with internal turmoil amid IOC’s warning to hold elections as soon as possible. In July, Narinder Batra had to quit as IOA president after the high court ruled that his appointment as life member of ‘Hockey India,’ which allowed him to fight IOA election, was unconstitutional under the sports code. After Batra stepped down, senior vice president Anil Khanna was made the acting president.
Concerned at the state of affairs of the IOA, the IOC in July had threatened to suspend the governing body if it failed to conduct its election within the coming weeks. However, with the matter in court IOA could not proceed with it and were awaiting for a directive from the court.
IOA officials, including acting president Khanna, spoke to IOC officials on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. They sought a meeting with IOC top brass in Lausanne in the first week of September. With the court appointing a CoA to run the administration, IOA will have to seek more time from the world body. The IOA was banned by the world body in 2012 for government interference and electoral malpractices. The sanction was lifted only after 14 months during the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
The IOA had called for a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issue. "The IOA members will discuss the High Court judgement in detail and will decide whether to go for an appeal in the Supreme Court," said IOA secretary general Rajiv Mehta.
The court on Tuesday made strong observations on how IOA was being run, saying that “recalcitrant entities which defy adherence to rules of the game, while continuing to unjustly enjoy government’s largesse and patronage, must be called out”.
“The history of persistent recalcitrance of the IOA for almost half a century to comply with the Sports Code, despite its consistent assurance to the government, the societal concerns and the larger public good, make it imperative that the IOA’s affairs be put in the hands of a Committee of Administrators (CoA), similar to what has been directed by the Supreme Court on May 18, 2022 in the case of another NSF in All India Football Federation vs. Rahul Mehra & Ors,” the court said in a 72-page judgment.
Striking down the post of Life President and any such permanent post for an individual in the IOA, the court said there can be room for a permanent post in any National Sports Federation or the IOA.
“Nobody can contemplate of a permanent position in any organization which discharges public functions and receives government funds and recognition. Indeed, it would be sporting, democratic and honourable for an individual to gracefully move-on in life once her/his tenure of office gets over. There is no place for staleness. Sports and sporting activities are about the excitement of competing to win and excel against the best. Fair competition and the transparency of processes, are immutable elements in matters governing sports administration,” the court said.
The court also directed that a person who is charge-sheeted in criminal proceedings, which could entail imprisonment of two years, shall cease to be a member of the IOA or NSF.
It held that the NSFs (including the IOA) have to comply with the ‘Model Election Guidelines’ and that the IOA Constitution shall also conform shall also conform to the same “or risk derecognition”.