The International Olympic Committee’s move to suspend India is an unprecedented opportunity to set right the country’s sports establishment
Every Indian has the right to feel outraged at the latest decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which denies one-seventh of humanity the right to participate in the Olympic movement. Can the IOC justify penalising the nation and its athletes for no fault of theirs? Certainly not.
The present action of the IOC has to be viewed in the context of previous suspensions of National Olympic Committees (NOC). Iraq was suspended in 2008 for dismissing the NOC and installing a new one headed by their own Sports Minister; Kuwait, in 2010, because its sports law was seen to heavily interfere with the functioning of the NOC; Ghana, in 2011, because the heads of National Sports Federations (NSF) were nominated by the government, which was against the Olympic Charter. In all these cases, therefore, the principal cause of action was “government interference” threatening the autonomy of sport guaranteed by the Olympic Charter.
The four issues
But in the case of India, the position appears to be quite the opposite because the National Sports Code only seeks transparency and accountability from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the NSFs in promoting the Olympic movement in the country. We need to examine four issues surrounding the IOA suspension episode to gain clarity. First, the refusal of the IOA to comply with the IOC’s directive to conduct elections as per their constitution and to keep tainted officials out of the fray; second, the government’s insistence on the IOA following the basic universal principles of good governance; third, the directive of the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi giving overriding effect to the National Sports Code in the event of conflict between the code and the IOA’s constitution; and fourth, the IOA’s decision to go ahead with its sham elections in defiance of the IOC directive.
On the first issue, the IOC knowing full well that the IOA’s constitution was not compliant with the Olympic Charter, did little to correct it when the IOA accommodated non-Olympic sport bodies and State Olympic associations with voting rights, which was against the Olympic Charter. As regards the need to keep tainted officials out of the election fray, the National Sports Code too prescribes the same, which reinforces the fact that it only complements the Olympic Charter.
On the issue of the National Sports Code, it makes the adoption of basic universal principles of good governance of the Olympic and sport movements mandatory for the IOA and all NSFs, be it transparent elections, tenure limit, keeping corrupt officials out, or representation of athletes in the management of sport. Further, these principles are based on the Olympic Charter. Therefore, the stand of the IOC on this matter is self-contradictory. While on the one hand it underlines the need to maintain the highest standards of ethics in sport, on the other, it makes good governance optional, leaving it to the total discretion of the NOC. The result is for all of us to see — the pathetic state of sports in the country. It is sad that the IOC’s stance has indirectly encouraged the IOA not to adopt good governance principles on the false pretext of autonomy and the cost of it has to be borne by innocent athletes. The question is: why can’t India also adopt the United States system where the U.S. Olympic Committee is bound by law to adopt good governance principles and cannot amend its constitution without public hearing?
On the third issue of the court directive, the Olympic Charter categorically states that all constituents of the Olympic movement must respect applicable laws while trying to influence the lawmakers to protect Olympism wherever national and supranational laws and regulations are found to be inconsistent with the Olympic Charter. But that situation does not arise, as the National Sports Code is based on the Olympic principles. After all, the IOC does not object to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, which grants monopoly status to the U.S. Olympic Committee subject to good governance requirements for it and its member national governing bodies for individual sports. The IOC should apply the same principle to India and consider setting up an interim IOA committee.
Finally, the IOA’s sham elections sans IOC’s recognition make it invalid and also liable to lose government recognition because for that, the recognition of the IOC is a necessary prerequisite. In this entire episode, the Indian athlete has suffered the most and the national pride has taken a hit for the excesses committed by the IOA and indifferent attitude shown the IOC, which is unwilling to engage with the government. That the Indian athletes may still be allowed to participate in the Olympics as independent athletes under the IOC flag is hardly any consolation. Besides the IOC must clarify as to who has given it the right to deprive the Indian athlete of his nationality and national pride. Surely not the Olympic Charter!
But in the end, every Indian should derive solace in what has happened because what the IOC has dished out is bitter sweet — bitter because it is outrageous to penalise the nation and its athletes for the IOA’s fault, and sweet because it gives us an unprecedented opportunity to cleanse Indian sports by bidding farewell to the spoilt sport czars of the IOA. Let athletes and committed sports administrators rise to the occasion and carry the Olympic torch forward. If necessary, let India follow the Chinese precedent of voluntarily withdrawing from the Olympics only to come back stronger (China voluntarily withdrew from the Summer Olympics in 1952 when it had a dispute with the IOC regarding the recognition granted to Taiwan as “Republic of China,” and returned in 1984 and stood fourth in the medal standings).
(Injeti Srinivas is a civil servant — formerly Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. His views are personal.)