In many ways, off the field, the last few years have turned out to be the darkest years of Indian sport. Whether it’s the Common-wealth Games fiasco, doping scandals, the in-fighting in Indian hockey, or the new low hit last week when the International Olympic Council suspended the Indian Olympic Association, each has been absolutely shameful for Indian sport.
From being a country known for its sporting drive to being besieged by mismanagement and corruption, sport in India has hit the nadir. Even after all this, following the suspension of the IOA, the men who wield power in the various sports bodies aren’t looking at resolving the problems. They are instead indulging in mud-slinging and blame games.
Truly, Indian sport could have been cleaner and better, if only politicians had not taken over sports administration.
The entry of politicians into Indian sport can be traced back to at least 50 years, but their domination of the administrative bodies only started more recently, when the need for money in sports became pressing.
As players, even we were of the perception that only politicians could bring in money. This was before the corporate culture had made its foray into India and at a time when there were no sponsors and no money in Indian sport. But as soon as they came in, the politicians bought power with their cash. There was nothing sportsmen could do, but watch helplessly as the politicians ruled the arena.
The result, naturally, was that sports administration started to rot, because the politicians, in turn, brought in their cronies as office-bearers, and most of them had no clue about the sport or the way it is to be run. The worst affected were the players. In many associations, they were used as pawns in the fight for power and many bright talents faded away due to this.
The politicians needed two things to rule a sport money and muscle power and they had both. For them, sports federations have become the best route to the good life of power and recognition.
Such has been the power of the politicians who run sport in this country that they have stalled the national sports policy drafted by successive central sports ministers.
But while we continue to rant about the politicians, one is left to wonder, who are the best available people to run sports? Most say, sportspersons are best suited to run sports because they understand the problems of their creed best.
Yes, they do understand, but only till such time that they are on that side of the fence. Once they cross over to the administrative side, they change tracks and make sports administration their bread-and-butter. Some of them have proven to be worse than even the politicians.
Let me cite the example of one sportsperson-turned-administrator, whom I shall not name. As a Sports Authority of India official, for many years I saw him travel on a rickety scooter. But over the years, with sponsors coming into Indian sport, this person now owns hotels in India and abroad, and has an enviable fleet of cars. In this case, the greed for money and power overruled the person’s love of sport and passion for its development.
I have always been of the opinion that in sport we need to do away with the honorary administrative posts. We don’t want anyone to work for free for sport. Let us have paid officials who are responsible as well as accountable for the way sport functions.
After having worked as a sports administrator for over 30 years at the central and state levels, I am of the view that there are sport-loving people in government agencies who need to be tapped.
A couple of years ago, during a meeting with the then Union sports minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, I told him it is high time that we had a sports cadre in civil services. He was quite convinced with the idea, because by doing that we could have trained professionals to plan and execute our sporting plans. That plan, of course, is yet to take off.
Let me address the IOA situation. What caused this national shame is the misinterpretation and miscommunication of facts as per the convenience of IOA officials.
The IOA has all along blamed the government and the Sports Code, but what they do not highlight is the fact that the recommendations in the National Sports Code have been derived from the Olympic Charter.
For example, the tenure clause, which has become a major bone of contention, is part of the Olympic Charter.
Now, politicians and the men who run sport in this country fear the loss of power if they implement it. Hence, they took the easy way out by misinforming the International Olympic Council that the government is interfering in its bid to implement the charter.
I believe the IOA’s suspension has come as a blessing in disguise. It’s time to weed out the men who win elections with money and goon-dagiri. It’s shameful to see a tainted person like Lalit Bhanot win elections unopposed.
We are a democracy, and a nation with abundant talent. Even the International Olympic Council knows that. To safeguard our athletes and Indian sport, the sports ministry must act now, and work together with the IOC to bring in a transparent, efficient and accountable sports administration that is free of politicking and corruption.
M.P. Ganesh is a hockey Olympian and has been a reputed national and state-level sports administrator for over 35 years