The news about the International Olympic Committee suspending India has not been entirely unexpected though the pace with which events unfolded on Tuesday might have stunned many. That both sides adopted uncompromising postures while handling a most sensitive matter was unfortunate. The IOC did not wait for the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) elections to take place on Wednesday before suspending India, nor did it give a hearing to the Indian body, especially at a time when its representative in the country, Randhir Singh, happened to be an aspiring candidate in the elections. On its part, the IOA did not show the urgency or diplomacy that was warranted to deal with the situation. The IOA allowed things to drift even though contentious issues related to government guidelines on tenure of office-bearers — first enforced in 1975 — had been brewing for more than two years. It was the former Sports Minister, M. S. Gill, who pulled out the old guidelines from ‘cold storage’ in 2010, amended them and firmly told the IOA and the National Sports Federations (NSFs) to fall in line. Once the IOC warned the IOA that it should not go ahead with its elections under the National Sports Code as directed by the Delhi High Court, the suspension was a foregone conclusion.
If the IOC was on the IOA’s side in 2010 and subsequently, when the National Sports Development Bill was mooted in February 2011, the situation has changed completely with the IOC taking a rare stand against a National Olympic Committee because of what it perceives is the latter’s defiance. Factional fights within the Indian Olympic body have only helped divert the real issues that have plagued Indian sports administration for long, and delayed the reforms that are badly needed. Even as it has objected to government regulations dictating the IOA’s elections, the IOC has all but made it plain that it would not be averse to the idea of tenure restrictions if the measure is voluntarily adopted rather than imposed by the government. The IOA’s inability to sort things out with the government has led to this unprecedented suspension in its 88-year-old history. The Commonwealth Games scam that led to officials including IOA President Suresh Kalmadi and current Secretary-General-designate, Lalit Bhanot, being charge-sheeted, has only strengthened the public perception that sports bodies need to be brought under government regulation, especially when government funds are being utilised for the development of sports. The courts have concurred with the government view. The IOC’s sanction is not an intractable position but both the government and the IOA will need to come on board to clean up the mess without harming the interests of the athletes.