Politics in Indian sports is nothing new. Rival factions tend to paint each other as those indulging in unscrupulous methods.
This is exactly what is happening in the run-up to the elections to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
The periodic threats from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the dangers of eroding the autonomy of the Olympic Movement, as well as the suggestion that de-recognition could be imminent, has also become old hat.
Sports officials know — and athletes should also know — that the IOC would never allow athletes to suffer just because a government could be playing havoc with the autonomy of federations or court rulings are going against the sports bodies.
Two years have passed since M.S. Gill brought in a new set of guidelines to restrict the tenure of sports officials.
The former Sports Minister was, in fact, liberal, allowing a president to continue for three terms instead of the two he was entitled to earlier. The age bar of 70 was in keeping with IOC’s standards.
If anything, Gill’s successor Ajay Maken only made it tougher for the IOA and the NSFs.
Once the courts said that the guidelines (later code) were maintainable and enforceable, an emboldened ministry got down to the task of tightening screws with annual recognitions etc. being brought in.
There has been some serious thinking in the ministry some time ago that if the IOA challenged the High Court decisions in the Supreme Court, about the Sports Code, and the latter upheld the High Court verdict, the government may not require the Sports Bill at all. For, the Supreme Court decision would then become the law of the land.
The revised guidelines, in May 2010, modified with the main 1975 guidelines very much the basis, generated quite a debate, leading to the now-familiar cries of erosion of autonomy and the IOC’s intervention.
Armed with document packages running into hundreds of pages, the then joint secretary in the Sports Ministry Injeti Srinivas went to Lausanne in June 2010 for consultations with the IOC and IOA representatives, lasting more than six hours.
From then on, if not earlier, the IOC has been seized of the Indian situation.
Any further attempt to make the IOC understand what is in the Sports Code (a 227-page compilation of orders / notifications / instructions / circulars etc. of the government along with the 2001 government guidelines, now amended up to May 2010), would be a wasteful exercise.
The IOC has said that it did not have rules extending to the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) or the National Sports Federations (NSFs) to restrict tenure. It was up to them to adopt.
Protests from NSFs
The amended Indian guidelines of May 2010, now part of the Sports Code of the Government of India, 2011, have generated protests from the NSFs. Yet, on the last count in August 2011, at least 44 federations, including 23 Olympic sports federations, had informed the government that they were prepared to accept the revised guidelines.
The IOA has, however, always maintained that the NSFs were pressured into submission.
The government may not yet deprive elite athletes of a chance to train and compete with government support even if federations violate the code.
In the meantime, the anxiety of the Sports Ministry to sort out the issues with the IOC, just when the IOA election process was in full swing, has raised serious questions about the role of the government.
There is practically nothing that the IOC may not know about the most relevant portions of the code and their interpretations.
Yet, the ministry wants a dialogue with the IOC to explain its stand, and in turn that may well stall the election process.
Have the IOC and the government woken up too late even when both were fully familiar with the issues involved months ago? Today, unlike the mood in 2010, the IOA and a large number of federations want the IOC to allow the elections to go on under the Sports Code, on the directive of the Delhi High Court even as they protest.
It is possible that a clear picture about the IOC stand could be available when its Executive Board meets in Lausanne on December 4 and 5, a day before and on the day of the IOA elections.