India Insight

Game over for sports VIPs in India?

May 5, 2010

The rules of the game in India’s multi-million dollar sports industry are set to change with the sports ministry’s decision to bring back a key 1975 regulation.

A commuter walks past the New Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 mascot in New Delhi October 3, 2009.

The regulation, capping the tenure of sports bosses, has pitted the ministry against National Sporting Federation (NSF) chiefs, who have threatened that the ministry’s actions might invite a ban on Indian sports.

The central government’s move is seen as part of a ‘clean-up drive’ of the country’s sporting bodies that have long been riddled with controversies, and allegations of mismanagement.

What is often described as the modern day fiefdom of the sports bodies’ chiefs, most of whom are politicians, is now under threat.

Who retires hurt?

At present, not many. Existing office bearers will be allowed to complete their terms, according to the ministry. But eventually, almost all NSF chiefs, including the chief of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), Suresh Kalmadi, will have to go.

Kalmadi, a Congress MP who has been heading the IOA since 1996, is forbidden by this regulation to seek re-election after his current term gets over.

Apart from him, the list of those affected by the regulation include several other politicians.

The IOA has been in conflict with the sports ministry for quite some time. It has tremendous clout, owing to its role as the organising body for the Commonwealth Games to be hosted by New Delhi in October this year.

Bringing back the 1975 regulation, Sports Minister M.S. Gill has reiterated his demand for “transparency” in management of sports, while his opponents in the NSFs continue to play on the sticky wicket of “autonomy”.

Gill terms this as their unwillingness to part with their posts which they want to “hold on to forever”. The ministry refutes claims that the regulation is in violation of the IOC charter, reasoning that the international agency itself puts similar caps on the terms of office bearers.

However, the ministry’s announcement has found favour with former athletes like Milkha Singh and Aslam Sher Khan who say it could make way for more athletes and former sportspersons to be part of sports governing bodies.

But the timing of the regulation by the sports ministry – just ahead of a High Court hearing of a PIL on the same – is also circumspect. It only scores on the count of a rather delayed and much needed action as opposed to inaction.

A review of the management of various sports bodies in the country is in order, following recent revelations pointing towards discrepancies in the financial dealings of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

While politicians and bureaucrats are irked by the ‘interference’ of the government in the working of the NSFs, it is pertinent to ask: what is it that makes sports bodies so lucrative?

And can the sports ministry’s decision bring more transparency in the “business” of sports?

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