Sports federations refuse to toe the line over stringent code

Sports federations refuse to toe the line over stringent code
Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju. Staidum Track Photo by Marvin Ronsdorf.

A committee to look into work done by two earlier committees which examined the same subject! That is the face-saving formula the government resorts to whenever faced with ticklish matters or strong opposition. Faced with the reluctance of the national sports federations to sign the new national sports development code, the new  Union sports minister Kiren Rijiju has decided to appoint a committee to examine "all issues." Interestingly, the committee will not be appointed immediately but may come into being after the Tokyo Olympics being held next year.

The office-bearers of 44 sports federations which control every recognised sport from athletics to swimming to the shooting have thwarted the attempt of sports ministry officials to sign the code, which tightens the eligibility conditions for officials of these sports bodies, which receive funds from the government for tournaments, training and sending contingents to international sports events.

The conditions were fixed by a committee headed by Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra. The main conditions are that no MP, MLA or government official can become the office-bearer of a federation at the national or state level. Secondly, there is an upper age limit of 70 years, and no one can be office-bearer for more than 12 years. Interestingly, Bindra Committee itself was formed by the Narendra Modi government to study the report of an earlier committee headed by retired high court judge C K  Mahajan, which said government funds should not be released unless the federations put their houses in order, and complied with the conditions.

The issue got a sense of urgency as 12 Olympians have moved the Supreme Court asking that the tough conditions imposed on the Board of Control for Cricket in India based on the Lodha Committee recommendations should be applied to all sports bodies. But the federations led by the Indian Olympic Association have been arguing that the stringent rules are against the autonomy propounded by the International Olympic Committee and if they sign the code, then they may face action from their own international bodies.

Former civil aviation minister and present NCP President Praful Patel heads the All-India Football Federation; Brij Bhushan Sharan, a BJP MP is the president of the Wrestling Federation, while Kho Kho Federation is headed by BJP national spokesperson Sudanshu Mittal, who has just been elected to the Rajya Sabha in the vacancy caused by death of veteran leader Arun Jaitley. Assam's finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma heads the Badminton Federation of India. The equestrian and golf federations are controlled by serving army officials, while Yachting Federation is headed by a naval officer.

Rijiju, who does not want to go for a confrontation with the powerful men who control Indian sports just ahead of Tokyo Olympics, told them in Delhi that he would like to focus on the preparations for the once-in-four-year event. He asked the federations to ensure more medals for India than the occasional meagre medal picks by a country with a 125-crore population. But those who are campaigning against those holding political or bureaucratic or military positions from running sports federations will continue to agitate for more accountability, especially as some federations have families controlling them at the national and state levels. They also want star sportsmen and women to become office-bearers, but those who favour status quo are those sportspersons who are by and large poor administrators.

Now Rijiju has postponed a decision by announcing a committee will look into all these issues, that too "at an appropriate time".

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