Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Special Report: Indian Sports’ Leap Into The Abyss

By Vishal Shekhar / INN Bureau

After the ban comes the cover-up. Indian sports administrators are yet to learn from the Olympic ban. Over 100 Indian athletes aged 14-17 who will participate in the second Asian Youth Games in China this August are unlikely to compete under the Indian flag. Seven months after the biggest sports governing body of the world banned its Indian affiliate from the Olympics the likelihood of India being represented at international sporting events in the near future looks bleak.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in December last year for government interference in the IOA’s functioning and bad governance. It came a day ahead of a crucial vote that could result in a tainted official taking over as the secretary general of the IOA.

Whereas the IOC is willing to revoke its ban if the IOA holds “fair” elections and amend its constitution to align with the Olympic Charter, IOA officials are willing to do neither. The ban ensures that the IOA gets no financial assistance from the IOC and Indian athletes can only compete under the Olympic flag at major international events coordinated by the IOC.

Meanwhile, the IOA and sports ministry are busy conniving with each other to ensure that Indian sports administrators have things their way. The IOC is expected to meet IOA representatives later next month to review the ban on condition of amendments to the IOA constitution.

The Olympic Charter says that any IOC member will cease to be a member at the end of the calendar year when s/he reaches 70 years. Compliance to this one rule would ensure that many, if not most, sport administrators, including 81-year-old VK Malhotra, current acting president of the IOA, would have to relinquish their offices.

Most sports administrators in India are politically and bureaucratically connected and treat sport federations as their personal fiefdom. BJP legislator from Delhi, VK Malhotra has been at the helm of the Archery Association of India for the past 40 years. Randhir Singh, a former trap shooter and India’s sole representative at the IOC, had previously held the post of IOA secretary general for 25 years while Anil Khanna has recently been elected as President of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) after having been its Secretary General for 12 years.

While age and tenure is one of the many bones of contentions between the IOC and the IOA, documents reviewed by INN suggest that the latter has failed to do so and instead amended it’s constitution to suit administrators. A copy of the minutes of the meeting chaired by Secretary (Sports) PK Deb on 22 April 2013 to discuss the age-tenure related amendments, shows the government’s lack of interest in the matter.

The amended constitution reads: “No member shall hold an Executive Post on attaining the age of superannuation prescribed for its members by IOC or if there is no age prescribed by the IOC, upon attaining the age of 70 years”. According to the amended constitution there are three executive positions in the IOA hierarchy the president, the secretary general, and the Treasurer.

The amendment proposes no age limit for positions other than the three executive posts. This is “because we got to know that the IOC may increase its age limit soon,” says Rakesh Gupta, IOA joint secretary.

In effect, one can use her/his power and influence in the organisation as vice-president, joint secretary or any other official position beyond 70.

Similarly, while the Olympic Charter says that a president is chosen for a term of eight years, which can be extended by another four years (setting a maximum of 12 years), the IOA amendment fails to put a cap on the president’s tenure.

The amendment reads: “No member shall hold one or more Executive Post for more than five consecutive terms or 20 years, whichever is less.” The insertion of the word “consecutive” is not coincidental as another amendment clarifies that members who have complete five consecutive terms in one or more Executive Posts must serve a cooling off period before being eligible to contest an Executive Post. Essentially, even 20 years is not the maximum limit.

According to Union Sports Secretary PK Deb, state Olympic committees are defunct bodies with no real mandate. They are only used to gather votes for IOA elections. Deb admits that no amendment has been made to take away these voting rights at the insistence of the IOC and also because “who from the IOA would agree to it?”

The IOC has now sought time to review the amendments made to the IOA constitution. Interestingly, the IOA was supposed to meet on 11 July to pass the amendments made to its constitution.

However, IOA Secretary General Rakesh Gupa says that the 11 July meeting will transpire as scheduled. “You’ve been suspended once for holding faulty elections defying IOC, how can you again when the IOC has asked you to delay the meeting, defy your international parent body?” asks lawyer and sports enthusiast Rahul Mehra. Gupta however assures that “no amendment will be made to the IOA constitution on this meeting but the members will meet for discussion”.

The IOC recently wrote to the IOA saying that they needed time to review the amendments and therefore extended the deadline for the holding of the IOA meeting.

Meanwhile, IOA’s acting president VK Malhotra says that he has not been informed of any meeting and that the “IOA cannot carry our any amendments without prior sanction from the IOC.”

IOA’s long history of corruption and controversies has been a reason for the IOC’s ban. While politicians and bureaucrats continue to call the shots for the IOA, the proverbial last straw that led to India’s ouster from the Olympics was the unopposed election of Lalit Bhanot as the secretary general of the sporting body. The same day, Abhay Singh Chautala, the son of former chief minister of Haryana Om Prakash Chautala, was elected the president of the IOA. While Chautala has a CBI inquiry pending against him in a disproportionate assets case, Bhanot, a close aide of former IOA president Suresh Kalmadi, has served 11 months in jail for his alleged involvement in the 2010 CWG scam.

The election took place despite the IOC’s Ethics Commission having recommended that tainted officials like Bhanot (who was charged for corruption in connection with the CWG scam) cannot be a part of the Olympic movement.

Incidentally, the amendments make no mention of curbing chargesheeted officials from contesting elections in sports bodies. If it did, Chautala and Bhanot would both be on their way out given that Chautala has a criminal investigation pending against him and Bhanot is currently out on bail. “There is a clause on convicted officials not being allowed to hold posts though,” says Deb.

Retired Justice Mukul Mudgal, head of the drafting committee for the National Sports Development Bill, has suggested that chargesheeted individuals should not be allowed to contests elections for any national sports federation or the IOA. Justifying the recommendation, Mudgal says that “we believe that sports authorities should set a higher standard”.

According to Ashwini Nachappa, former athlete and member of Clean Sports India, a movement for corruption-free sports, Suresh Kalmadi’s recent defeat in the Asian Athletics Association elections is only a small step further. “ After serving time in jail, why was he allowed to contest? We know the Bhanots and Kalmadis controlled the Athletics Federation of India even from jail. That’s the power they hold which needs to be broken,” she says.

Apart from the power of deciding on the future of Indian athletes and sports, prolonged stints in the IOA or even a National Sports Federation clearly have much more to offer.

Take for instance Anil Khanna, the president of the AITA. In 2010, Khanna had to resign from the post of Treasurer of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee (CWG OC) because of allegations of conflict of interest. His son, Aditya Khanna, CEO of the Indian arm of the Australian company Rebound Ace, had secured a contract for laying 14 synthetic surfaces at the RK Khanna Tennis Stadium in New Delhi. Although the company’s services were discontinued from the Australian Open since 2007 after its turfs drew flak from international players including Roger Federer citing increased chances of injuries, it was given the contract for CWG games in Delhi.

While Anil denies being involved in the selection process, it is still a mystery why the CWG OC granted the contract to his son’s company.

Unfortunately, there are more creative ways still to use a sports administrator’s position, like giving oneself a national sports award. Like the brother of the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) chief N Srinivasasn, N Ramachandran who is the president of the World Squash Federations allegedly did. The Delhi High Court recently slammed Ramachandran for fraud and manipulation in getting a national sports award.

“We’re the only country that requires to have 25 percent reservation for former athletes in sports administration and yet we have maybe 2-3 percent,” says Mehra. India’s first Olympic gold medalist, Abhinav Bindra says that though “the ban is not an ideal situation to be in but the athletes are hopeful that the politics will be sorted out soon so that they can compete under the national flag at the 2016 Rio Olympics.”

The sports secretary justifies IOA’s meeting scheduled for 11 July to amend its constitution citing confusion regarding India’s representation at the Asian Youth Games to be held in August.

The need of the hour is to have amendments that will result in a revocation of the ban and not one that’ll be one leap forward for sports administrators and two steps back for the athletes and sports.