Union Sports Minister M.S. Gill has done a real service to Indian sport by restoring a 35-year-old clause in the government guidelines dealing with the tenure of office-bearers of the National Sports Federations (NSFs) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). The tenure clause in its amended form, which was notified last week, is actually a softening of the 1975 guidelines. It restricts the term of a president of a federation to a maximum of 12 years (up from eight previously) and that of the secretary and the treasurer to two terms of four years. It is another matter that over the years the guidelines have been honoured mainly in the breach. In August 2002, Sports Minister Uma Bharti formally decided to keep the tenure guideline in abeyance. Public opinion has weighed heavily against sports officials sticking to their posts for decades. Dr. Gill's laudable initiative was speeded up by observations made by the Delhi High Court in an ongoing public interest litigation and by the sentiments expressed by several MPs in the Rajya Sabha.
The IOA and NSF bosses have taken shelter behind the Olympic Charter, the document that governs world sport. They have also sought the Prime Minister's intervention. The Olympic Charter empowers the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to suspend a National Olympic Committee (NOC) if government regulations, laws or even the constitution of a country hamper the activity or erode the autonomy of an NOC. Nepal and Iraq in the past and Kuwait, more recently, suffered the consequences of IOC sanctions. Dr. Gill, who has tried to bring transparency and accountability into the functioning of the NSFs, has wisely decided to send a senior Ministry official to the IOC Headquarters in Lausanne to sort out the matter. Autonomy cannot mean unbridled liberty to run sports bodies at the cost of the public exchequer. In framing fresh regulations, the Sports Ministry has argued that it has merely followed international ‘best practices.' With politicians at the helm of most federations, reform and regulation of Indian sports bodies has become extremely difficult. The spirited attempts by Mani Shankar Aiyar, Dr. Gill's predecessor, to set up a regulatory authority met with stiff resistance. The former Chief Election Commissioner has a tightrope walk ahead as he sets out to discipline the IOA and the federations without breaching the Olympic Charter — even as he grapples with the enormous task of getting Delhi ready for hosting the Commonwealth Games less than five months from now.
Correction and Clarification
The first paragraph of in the above Editorial says “In August 2002, Sports Minister Uma Bharti formally decided to keep the tenure guideline in abeyance.” A reader said that it was in 2001.
The writer clarifies: The reader is partially correct. There was an instruction, perhaps a noting, on October 11, 2001 to keep the guideline in abeyance. However, on May 2, 2010, when the latest order was released to the media, this is what Sports Minister M.S. Gill said: “I am satisfied that the cryptic order, passed on August 24, 2002, by the then minister, blocking the perfectly valid and well considered regulations of 1975, served no public interest. I have, therefore, set it aside .…” We have only stated the then Sports Minister formally decided to keep the guideline in abeyance in August 2002.