By its unabashed posturing against the suggested course of return to the Olympic fold, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has staked India’s future in the sporting movement. In amending its constitution to bar only those convicted for two years or more, instead of those charge sheeted by a court, as suggested by both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Union Government, the IOA has kept the door ajar for a possible return to power by officials being prosecuted in the 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam. For decades, sports administrators in India have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The cloak of “autonomy” granted to them by the IOC gives officials the freedom to perpetuate their reign. The set of government guidelines for National Sports Federations, formulated in 1975, which stipulated an eight-year tenure at a stretch for any office-bearer, was an attempt to break the hegemony of vested interests. The guidelines, violated at will from the mid-1980s, were revised by the then Sports Minister M.S. Gill in 2010 to provide them with more teeth. Subsequent legal battles, formulation of the National Sports Code and redrafting of the National Sports Development Bill after it failed to clear a Cabinet meeting, all contributed to a churning out process at the end of which the IOA still looks the “winner.”
By agreeing to dilute the clauses on tenure and age prior to a meeting convened by the IOC in Lausanne last May, the Sports Ministry has effectively handed over the reins of federations to officials for 20 years — eight years as secretary followed by 12 as president — if they can beat the age bar of 70. With a fresh start to any prospective candidate being suggested by the IOA, it will mean that anyone can begin a second 20-year term now! Much is being made out of the formation of the new Ethics Commission but it should be noted that the IOA has had two such commissions within the past two years. The one that recommended barring Suresh Kalmadi and others involved in the CWG scam from holding any position in the IOA was thrown out shortly after its verdict in 2011. The focus will remain on the IOC as the country waits for the suspension to end. Facing open defiance for the first time since it suspended the Indian body last December, the IOC may not have much in its rules to extend a ban on the “charge sheet” issue. But if it is to be seen as endorsing the “principles of good governance” mooted by the Olympic Congress of 2009, it will have to strike a hard bargain with the IOA before lifting the suspension. The government needs to bring the parties back to the negotiating table, not to give further concessions, but to talk tough.