From 1975 through the 80s and 90s, the dispute over the Union Government guidelines, especially the one relating to tenure of office-bearers of the National Sports Federations (NSFs) had raged, without anyone having reached close to a solution.
The topic has once again hit the headlines and, if anything, the situation looks far more complex than in the past with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) coming out in the open to support the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the NSFs.
At the same time, the Union Sports Ministry has clearly asserted itself in claiming that it had the powers to impose such guidelines apart from having the support of Parliament, public and the media.
Since taking over as the Union Sports Minister in April, 2008 (first as Minister of State with independent charge and from May 28, 2009, as Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports), M. S. Gill has endeared himself to sportspersons at large with a series of measures aimed at improving their status and welfare.
Dr. Gill has also taken a keen interest in bringing transparency including “clean election” procedures, and accountability into the functioning of the NSFs.
Amidst his heavy burden of responsibilities towards getting the infrastructure ready for the Commonwealth Games in October, the Sports Minister has triggered a fresh debate with the restoration of the tenure clause in the 1975 guidelines.
The amended guidelines, notified on May 1, fixes the term of a federation president, including that of the IOA, to a maximum of 12 years and that of the secretary and the treasurer up to two terms of four years each with a provision for them to take a break before return.
Expectedly, the IOA and the federations have reacted to the development rather stridently. The IOC, quickly brought into the picture, has supported the Olympic sports bodies, even holding out a threat of suspension of the IOA if things were not sorted out through dialogue.
The ministry has remained unfazed. In its letter dated May 12, addressed to IOC President Jacques Rogge, it wrote: “You have in your own organisation changed your internal rules in 1999, in order to have a reasonable age limit of 70 years, a maximum presidential term of 12 years, and an office-bearer's term of 8 years, to be followed, by a break. This has been done perhaps keeping in mind that in the recent past you have had Presidents and office-bearers, whose lengthy tenures had invited world comment.
“Your organisation's office-bearers, voted in by the National Olympic Committees (NOCs)/ International Federations (IFs), have now, with their willing consent, put in place rules, which prepare the IOC, to serve the best interest of sport in the world, in the new century. This step has been widely welcomed.”
(Actually the IOC elects its own members. It is the apex world body for the Olympic Movement that encompasses the IOC, the Olympic Games Organising Committees, the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the International Federations, and effectively also controls all multi-discipline games. While putting a cap on the IOC office-bearers the Olympic Charter allows NOCs to have their own rules, only stipulating that the office-bearers be elected or re-elected once every four years).
The ministry letter further stated: “However, your present position, seems to indicate, that what is eminently desirable for the IOC, and has been put in place by the votes of the NOCs, need not be followed by the NOCs themselves, and they may continue to have office-bearers, of unacceptable lengths of tenure, going on to advanced ages. The IOC wants to stand, well away from this situation, in its constituent bodies, simply requiring an election, by a very limited voter list, every four years.
“You have indicated, that therefore, the sole interest you have, is to let them function as they may, elect as they will, and the national governments, or the courts of the countries, should not restrain them, or guide them, in any manner whatsoever. This is to say the least, a very strange position,” the letter said.
The ministry has stated that once clarity was obtained in a pending PIL on a related matter in the Delhi High Court it would get back to the IOC in order to arrange a meeting at the latter's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“We urge you to respect our national concerns and sentiments, and assist us in giving Indian sports a better deal in the 21st century,” the ministry letter concluded.
Keywords: Sports Ministry