For many sports administrators in India, the definition of success is simple: staying in power
Sport in India, today, has very little to do with sport, as many of us — starry-eyed romantics, Victorian idealists and lay purists — believe sport to be, or what it ought to be. It is, in the main, about two things: money and power.
And the two great monsters feed off each other with such unabashed avarice and ruthlessness that we have come to a point where we might even need to question our own passion vis-à-vis why we play sport, follow it with such unadulterated zeal, and celebrate its multi-splendoured beauty at every turn.
In the light of the pertinent observations made by an enlightened bench of Justices in the Supreme Court, on Thursday, the ‘today’ in the opening sentence perhaps requires additional emphasis.
“Who are these people heading these organisations?” asked Justices T.S. Thakur and J. Chelameswar, while hearing a petition filed by the Indian Hockey Federation which is one of a handful of opportunistic Indian sports bodies fighting a rival unit, in this case Hockey India.
“Sports officials are only interested in visiting foreign countries, and not in promoting the game,” observed the two Justices of the nation’s apex court.
Justices Thakur and Chelameswar have not only indefatigably held a mirror that reflects the ugly wart-ridden face of sports administration in this country but they have also done so at a time when it is critical that the people who care for sport and whose voice will be heard stand up for what they believe in.
For, this is a nation where honest businessmen, professionals and common folk who genuinely loved sport and hoped that India would, some day, be able to hold its own among sport’s superpowers, dug into their pockets — some deep, some not so deep — to facilitate teams to play in tournaments abroad in the two decades before and after Independence.
Those were the days — when a sporting utopia seemed near and achievable — that now appear part of the Pleistocene Era.
What ails Indian sport? You’ve probably heard this question from dozens of people — from the hair-dresser down the road, wherever you live, to a person sitting next you on a flight out of town, or perhaps from an overseas visitor who you might be entertaining.
When you have been trading thoughts and words for a living in the business of sports journalism for over three-and-a- half decades, it is not as if you have not sought the not-too-elusive answers.
But in an age when avarice is a virtue rather than a mortal sin, we seem to lack the moral vocabulary to express our disgust at the way many sports federations are run in India, right down from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), whose annual revenues are likely to exceed the GDP of some sub-Saharan African States self-immolating in internecine warfare.
While it may be unfair to make a sweeping generalisation, administration in many sports in this country is bedevilled by feudal attitudes, nepotism, a total lack of transparency and the absence of a capacious vision that is needed to develop a sport at the international level in challenging times.
The Indian Olympic Association is in a mess; its very legitimacy is in question after the International Olympic Committee withdrew its recognition to the IOA because the latter was not willing to abide by a controversial provision that would keep people charge-framed by the law of the land out of positions of power in the Indian body.
The All India Tennis Association and the Badminton Federation of India, from time to time, treat dissenting players like medieval witchcraft accused.
Meanwhile, politicians cutting across all barriers, industrialists, businessmen and retired bureaucrats, most with little or no direct involvement with the sports which they seek to control, fly business class and discuss things that matter to the sport in five-star conference rooms.
While it may not be possible to bring 100 per cent professional excellence to the management of major sports in India, what is most disturbing is the fact that our sports administrators spend much more time, energy and resources in their desperate attempts to stay in power than on promoting sport.
Even in a sport which is a multi-billion dollar industry, and one where players at various levels, and officials too, have come to benefit from the windfall, men in power with overlapping agendas stand like an impenetrable wall between cricket and the concept of fairness.
Focussing myopically on making money, wallowing in the cocoon of their own specialness, and ever ready to play the part of the bully to perfection on the International Cricket Council stage, top Indian officials have displayed the attitudes of bandit capitalists with hegemonistic ambitions.
The problem is, while the very face of sports management has changed the world over to meet the demands of modern professional sport, in India the administration in many sports is still in the dark ages — often characterised by the lawlessness of those times.
The only thing worse — not for themselves but for those affected by their actions — than being talented and unsuccessful is in being mediocre and successful, which many Indian sports administrators are.
And the definition of success is simple: staying in power.