The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has threatened the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) with suspension if the latter fails to adhere to its constitution and the Olympic Charter in conducting its elections on December 5.
The sword of Damocles had been hanging over the IOA’s head since the summer of 2010 when the then Sports Minister, M.S. Gill, revised the government guidelines for National Sports Federations (NSFs) and brought in a new set of stipulations for tenure of office-bearers.
Yet, the current threat, held out by none other than the IOC President, Jacques Rogge, looks far more potent than ever before.
During the past two years the IOC had tried to dissuade the Union Government from persisting with the guidelines or pursuing the National Sports Bill.
Though the Sports Bill has been put on the backburner since August, 2011, the courts have concurred with the government that the National Sports Code 2011 containing the tenure guidelines (May 2010) is enforceable.
The Delhi High Court had also ordered on September 19 last that the IOA elections should be held as per its constitution “as well as the Sports Code of the Government of India.”
The IOC had time to react at least from November 5 when its attention was drawn by the IOA to the election notice containing the provisions of the Sports Code, but it chose not to till November 15 when the election process was well underway.
Now, the suspension threat looks real.
By waking up to the perceived violation of the Charter, the IOC has left itself vulnerable to the charge of bias in favour of one of the groups engaged in the elections.
IOC chief Rogge has been on record that laws should be respected.
This is what he told the first World Sports Convention in Acapulco, Mexico, on October 23, 2010: “What does ‘autonomy of sport’ mean? Let me first say what it does not mean: It does not mean that we are above the law or that we should not be expected to adhere to the principles of good governance.
It simply means that the world of sport and sports administration should be free from direct political or government interference.
It means that governments should not interfere with fair elections for National Olympic Committees…”
Yet, an NOC is being threatened today with suspension because it has said it was bound by the law of the land.
The rules being followed are similar to the ones that the IOC has for its own members and the Executive Board.
A fresh round of dialogue looks possible. Sticking to the technicality that the elections had been notified under the Sports Code and thus violated the Charter may only deepen the crisis.
The easier solution would of course be for the IOA and the NSFs to amend their constitutions and fall in line with the government diktat.
In any case a large majority of the NSFs have agreed, at least in principle, to follow the Sports Code even if they are doing it under pressure.
The IOC letter itself has suggested that the IOA could amend the constitution and agree to the guidelines without infringing the provisions in the Olympic Charter.
In simpler terms the IOC wants the IOA to amend its constitution on its own without being forced to do it by an outside agency.
Will the IOA do it? Or will the IOC stick to its guns and impose a suspension and give its blessings to an ad hoc body against the wishes of the majority of the Olympic sports federations just because a court had ordered that government regulations should be followed?
Or will the IOC point out that one group has withdrawn from the contest since it could not fathom the idea of a government code being followed even if that code might have been followed by almost all leading federations during the past year or more and will be followed in the coming months?