Aabhas Sharma & Veenu Sandhu list out the full extent of the rot in the country’s sports administration which has been brought into the open now by the Indian Olympic body’s suspension by its international parent.
A few days after December 4, the day the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was de-recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Congress MP and former IOA vice-president Jagdish Tytler wrote to its members: “What are we getting by putting our long and hard-earned reputation of being able sports administrators at stake?” You could make a case against all claims made by Tytler, except one: long stints on the job.
Sports administrators, most of them politicians, seldom retire. Vijay Kumar Malhotra of the Bharatiya Janata Party has headed the Archery Association of India (AAI) since 1973. Former cabinet minister and Congress leader Priya Ranjan Das-munsi was the head of All India Football Federation for 20 long years and was replaced only in 2008 (by Praful Patel of the Nationalist Congress Party) after he suffered a stroke that left him in coma. Suresh Kalmadi had served IOA as president for 15 years when he was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in April 2011 over allegations of corruption in organising the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and had to relinquish his post. (Malhotra became the acting president.) Tytler has been president of the Judo Federation of India for almost 20 years.
V K Verma led the Badminton Association of India (BAI) for 13 years before Akhilesh Das Gupta of the Bahujan Samaj Party took over in July 2011. Haryana heavyweight Abhay Singh Chautala has run the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) for 11 years now. Yashwant Sinha of BJP was the president of All India Tennis Association (AITA) for 12 years till May 2012.
There are 52 national sports federations in India, including one each for atya patya, tug-of-war, ball badminton and jump rope. Then there are state federations whose numbers run into hundreds. Assam alone has more than 20 federations, and almost all of them are headed by politicians. Punjab has 32, over 80 per cent of them run by politicians, according to B V P Rao, chief convenor of Clean Sports India, an organisation founded by 10 Olympians including athlete Ashwani Nachappa and hockey star Pargat Singh. Rao had, incidentally, fought against Malhotra for the post of AAI president in November 2011 but lost to the 81-year-old politician. Sports administration has become the playground of politicians.
* * *
Naturally, there have been scandals, controversies and ego-clashes, the improved performance of Indian athletes in recent international events notwithstanding. IOC suspended IOA for not following the Olympic charter. It said that the IOA elections “were tarnished” and hence invalid. Chautala, the new president, and Lalit Bhanot, the new general secretary, blamed the outgoing general secretary, Randhir Singh, for the fiasco. Singh, who wanted to become president, had withdrawn his candidature on November 25 and wanted the elections postponed. Bhanot and Chautala alleged that Singh had sensed defeat and caused IOA to be suspended.
That’s not all. Two former office-bearers of IOA, Kalmadi and Bhanot, are under investigation for big-time corruption during the New Delhi Commonwealth Games. The Union ministry of youth and sports affairs has derecognised AAI and IBF for violating the code of conduct. AITA has been at war with players like Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna for the last few years. Bhupathi had accused the current president of AITA, Anil Khanna, of carrying out a personal vendetta against him. Hockey has seen unpleasant turf wars over the years which even led to the formation of two rival factions: Hockey India and Indian Hockey Federation. The International Hockey Federation had to step in and in November 2012 decided that IHF wouldn’t be recognised.
Even the Board for Control of Cricket in India is in the midst of a controversy with former selector Mohinder Amarnath alleging that BCCI president N Srinivasan didn’t want M S Dhoni to be sacked as captain, though all selectors were in favour of doing so, because he is the “icon player” of his IPL team, Chennai Super Kings. Lalit Modi, the former IPL commissioner, faces charges of financial impropriety and has relocated from India to London. From there he takes regular potshots at his rivals in BCCI.
Sportsmen have horrific tales to tell. Nachappa recalls how once, for the Saarc Games in Lahore, she was asked to travel by bus and train. Margaret Alva was then the sports minister. Nachappa put her foot down and said that after the hard work athletes put in, the least they can expect is decent travel arrangements. She was put on a flight but many other athletes had to travel by train and bus. Nachappa also recalls a tiff with Kalmadi on the eve of an international event when she was asked to travel abroad just a day before her event. “They don’t have any idea of what athletes need,” she says. At a recent meeting with sports federations, government officials had wanted to know what they needed. An official from the Indian Wrestling Federation demanded better bed sheets for the trainees. Another official from a federation asked for an extra piece of chicken in the athletes’ diet.
* * *
What attracts politicians to sports like a moth to a flame? “Sports is glamourous and provides visibility that’s perhaps even better than a minister,” says Manisha Malhotra, administrator, Mittal Champions Trust, a non-profit initiative of Lakshmi Niwas Mittal. As Indian athletes do better and better, the publicity opportunities also improve. “How many people would ordinarily know, say, Akhilesh Das Gupta,” asks a source. “But as president of BAI, his face was on every channel when Saina Nehwal won the bronze at the London Olympics. There he was in London giving byte after byte to TV channels as they chased him. How many politicians get such attention, unless they are really big in their party?”
Many suspect that the thirst for such visibility was the reason for the furious battle that 83-year-old Congress leader Vidya Stokes waged to be elected Hockey India’s president in August 2010 amidst ugly protests that age rules had been violated. Three months later, Stokes resigned abruptly, saying that politics left her with no time for hockey. But a statement from Hockey India said that in February that year when Stokes was the interim president, she had committed to the then sports minister, M S Gill, that “she would step down as president only after the Commonwealth Games”. So, when India hosted its biggest and most spectacular sporting event, Stokes was Hockey India’s president, very much under the arclights.
The perks of the job are decent. An Olympic delegate gets an all-access pass at the Olympics, a chauffeured car and literally an all-expenses paid holiday. Even in non-Olympic years, there are innumerable foreign jaunts. There’s money too, though not every sports federation can boast of being as cash rich as BCCI: net worth of Rs 3,300 crore. The federations have three sources of funds: annual allocations from the government (the department of sports got Rs 722 crore for 2012-13), grants from overseas sports associations (each national federation gets $90,000 from IOC every year) and sponsorships. All federations, big or small, do not disclose their finances. As these are autonomous bodies, not controlled by the government, their financial records cannot be accessed through the Right to Information. Congress leader Raninder Singh, president of the National Rifle Association of India, is one of the few who will admit to the big money involved. Shooting, he says, is among the largest recipient of government funds: Rs 14.5 crore during the lean year and about Rs 17 crore for busy years (Olympics, Commonwealth Games or Asian Games). Singh admits sponsorships are large and critical for organising events.
The government has divided sports into two categories: priority and non-priority. The fortunes of a federation improve dramatically if it changes from non-priority to priority. “When you suddenly put a sport like judo on the priority list, there is bound to be clamour for becoming its president as these people have never seen money like this,” says Malhotra of Mittal Champions Trust.
Is there misappropriation of money? Nobody knows. The Commonwealth Games scam is yet to be decided by the courts. But all is certainly not well. Till 2010, the government used to allocate funds only to the federations. In the last two years, it has started funding athletes in priority sports directly, be it training abroad or getting specialists over for training and conditioning. Malhotra of BJP says that it’s easy for a federation to get sponsors for an event if a politician is heading it. That’s true. So, the list of sponsors for BAI’s Yonex-Sunrise Indian Open this year had included Steel Authority of India, Syndicate Bank, Bank of Maharashtra, Bank of India and Oil & Natural Gas Corporation — all state-owned units. Would BAI have got these sponsors if it was headed by Prakash Padukone and not Das Gupta? Maybe not.
* * *
The global best practices are quite different. In Britain, for instance, UK Sport is led by sportsmen and bureaucrats. The money it handles every year is much bigger than IOA, but it goes to the right places; books of accounts are maintained properly and balance sheets are available online. Commentators haven’t hesitated in giving credit for the country’s inspired performance at the London Olympics to UK Sport.
In India, the government has realised that the act needs to be cleaned up, or else it will be straddled with more scams and controversies. In May 2010, Gill had called a meeting of the Commonwealth Coordination Committee at Ashoka Hotel in New Delhi. About 20 federation chiefs were present, including Kalmadi, Tytler and Verma (of IBA). Taking the audience by surprise, Gill had said all bosses over 70 and those who have been in office for 12 years or more would have to step down. The suggestion was met with stout resistance. Tytler apparently said at the meeting that “they were leaving their businesses to be involved in sport.”
The two conditions outlined by Gill have been made mandatory but federations flout them openly. Gill’s successor, Ajay Maken, a man almost all athletes speak highly off, too tried to impose these guidelines strictly, but in vain. Maken even tried to get the Sports Bill passed in Parliament but made the mistake of including BCCI in it. All of a sudden, he had opponents cutting across parties coming at him: Arun Jaitley (BJP), Rajiv Shukla and C P Joshi (Congress), Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel (Nationalist Congress Party) and Farooq Abdullah (National Conference).
The current minster, Jitendra Singh, wants the federations to follow the sports code, and says his ministry doesn’t want to interfere in their affairs. Going forward, he says, strict measures will be adopted if things continue to be as they are. “We don’t want sportsmen to suffer.” He doesn’t talk much about the future plans of the ministry but insists that the “sports bill will ensure transparency and accountability”.
He can be sure of resistance from the incumbents. Had they been such bad people, many of them argue, their sportsmen wouldn’t have done so well in recent years. Malhotra of BJP takes credit for producing archers like Limba Ram in the early ’90s and Deepika Kumari now. It is also true that the golden era of Indian boxing began when Chautala was heading IABF. Who said change is easy?