The CWG 2010 scandal and the public outrage that followed led to the downfall of IOA top boss Suresh Kalmadi and his team on charges of alleged corruption. The immediate fallout of this scandal was the decision to bring in the National Sports Development Bill by then Union minister Ajay Maken. The basis of such a bill was the absence of strict regulation in Indian sports organisations, a lack of transparency in their functioning as well as a lack of professionalism in administration. With all NSFs [National Sports Federation] being almost fully dependent on public funding for their athletes’ programmes, coaching, competitions and trips offering exposure, these NSFs were considered to be performing public functions and hence came under the ambit of the Right to Information Act.
The bill had “too good to be true” written on it from day one.
Athletes, sports activists and the media welcomed it. The move was summarily dismissed by sports bosses, particularly politicians cutting across party lines. In April 2011, the Union sports ministry announced the formation of a committee chaired by the former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Mukul Mudgal, to fine-tune the draft of the National Sports Development Bill. The committee sought views in writing and in person from a wide cross-section of the society – journalists, sports writers, athletes, sports administrators and sports activists, travelling to various cities of the country.
The bill sought to cap the age of elected officials in NSFs at seventy years and sought the inclusion of athletes in the decision-making process. It aimed at making it mandatory for 25 per cent of the membership and voting powers in NSFs to be held by the athletes and put restrictions on the terms of office-bearers – to two terms, each of four years’ duration. The draft was based on “Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance” proposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and endorsed by the Olympic Congress, and it proposed to deal effectively with the cases of sexual harassment of women and child abuse in sports.
The sports bill draft faced the severest of criticism from senior political leaders of the country who were involved in sports administration.
The IOA’s acting president, VK Malhotra, who had headed the Archery Association of India since 1979, slammed the bill. Senior politicians within and outside the government also opposed the bill viciously. Maken, a relatively younger and enthusiastic minister, was up against the old guard of the political system.
On 30 August 2011, in a meeting of the Union Cabinet, the draft National Sports Development Bill was deferred. Then Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had remarked that this bill would never see the light of day in its format at the time, as most of the UPA allies would never support it. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and Mukherjee were the only supporters of Maken and his bill. They suggested that it should not be dismissed outright – Maken was asked to “rework” the bill.
The sports bill has indeed not seen the light of day ever since, with subsequent governments, too, deciding to put it in cold storage.
The glaring lack of political will to consider sports as a priority is intrinsic to the manner in which the SAI and the Union sports ministry are treated by almost all governments at the Centre.
Ad hoc-ism reigns; very often, the SAI [Sports Authority of India] is used as a “parking lot” for officers who use it as a soft posting or are out of favour with the incumbent government. There is a crying need not only for upgradation of coaches in various SAI centres but also for bringing in a dedicated, professional, qualified cadre with domain knowledge of the sport. As for the ministry, located at the end of the ministerial hub called Shastri Bhawan, the portfolio has been the least favourite of many ministers in the past – very few have gladly and willingly accepted the responsibility.
However, the sports ministry still had the revised National Sports Development Code 2011 to fall back on. Codified in the Gazette of India in February 2011, it had been ten years since the last code was revised. It had some salient features related to age and tenure norms, submission of annual accounts on time, transparent and timely elections, timely submission of Long-Term Development Plans and the annual calendar to be posted online, transparent selection trials, etc, which were also part of the draft sports bill.
NSFs became signatories to the code, accepting it in toto – but notably, without making the requisite changes in their constitutions. This meant NSFs being hauled to court via multiple PILs made by sports activist-cum-lawyer Rahul Mehra and others on the grounds of violating the Sports Code. The elections of the IOA, All India Football Federation, National Rifle Association of India, Boxing, Archery Association of India, Volleyball, All India Tennis Association, Badminton Association of India and the Wrestling Federation of India have been the subject of litigation from time to time.
The code itself has been a subject of litigation and opposition.
In 2015, the Union sports ministry formed a committee headed by Justice CK Mahajan (retd) to redraft the code. It was met with opposition from the outset by the IOA, with its secretary general taking an aggressive stand in the very first meeting. “We will not tolerate any government interference,” he stated, and subsequently, despite an IOA member being part of the committee, no representative from the IOA took part in deliberations. Mehra obtained a stay from the Delhi High Court on the finalisation of the report.
The annual recognition of NSFs and government funding is conditional on each one accepting the code and abiding by its terms. During various attempts to update and bring about a fresh code, the Union sports ministry has faced opposition from the IOA and its member federations. Their very first objection is that the code and/or the bill infringes on their autonomy and that the sole “code” they abide by is the Olympic Charter.
Each time, the IOA red-flags the code warning that an IOC suspension might be on the cards. The code and the proposed bill, as the ministry states at their very beginning, reiterate that they follow the basic principles of good governance, autonomy and transparency enshrined in the Olympic Charter.
In 2012, the IOC suspended the IOA due to “government interference in its elections”. However, there was more to it. The IOA was set to hold elections that included two CWG-scam-tainted office-bearers, which the IOC too had objected to. The IOC even snubbed delegations of the IOA as it consistently held that the elections, wherein these office-bearers emerged victorious, were void.
It took fourteen months, a change in the IOA constitution per IOC directives which barred any official charged with a serious crime from running for elections, an election held under the supervision of the IOC delegation, and assurances from a delegation led by then Union Sports Minister Jitendra Singh and Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra to the IOC for India’s return to the Olympic fold.
Since the structure is such that each federation is dependent on the state for funds for coaching, travel, exposure and competition as well as for playing under the Indian national flag, NSFs have no option but to accept the code. From time to time, there have been forays to circumvent the code, such as the attempt of the IOA to bring back tainted officials via the back door in 2016, but the government cracked the whip and instantly derecognised the IOA till it backtracked on its decision.
In July 2016, the Supreme Court order on the Lodha Committee Reforms in cricket was passed. It led to a demand by a host of former athletes to implement the recommendations in other NSFs too. Twenty-eight former Olympians and cricketers moved the Supreme Court for this relief. This case was tagged with the BCCI case and was up for hearing post the Supreme Court order related to the BCCI on 9 August 2018.
After the IOA regained recognition from the government in 2017, the sports ministry announced the formation of yet another committee, this time helmed by Union Sports Secretary Injeti Srinivas, the man who had authored the original code and draft sports bill. It consisted of 2008 Olympic champion Bindra, long jumper Anju Bobby George, badminton legend Prakash Padukone, FIH president Dr Narinder Dhruv Batra and noted lawyer Nandan Kamath.
The committee’s terms of reference were “to identify basic universal principles of ethics and good governance based on the IOC Charter of international best practices, Draft National Sports Development Bill, National Sports Development Code of 2011, Supreme Court and High Court judgements”. Mehra moved the Delhi High Court, requesting for a copy of the original draft of the committee’s report to be shared with him. The court agreed to his demand and the government was required to provide a copy of the committee’s finalised recommendations.
The new code, expected to be stringent in terms of age, tenure and cooling-off periods, and emphasising professional management and high-performance expert involvement in the NSFs, awaits clearance from the court. Upon the application of the Union sports ministry the proposed new code was withdrawn from the Delhi High Court on the basis that it required stakeholder consultation. The status of a new code remains in limbo and judicial proceedings continue in the high courts and Supreme Court on matters related to the All India Football Federation, the Archery Association of India and other bodies in terms of the applicability of the existing code, the applicability of new judicial precedent and related issues.
Excerpted with permission from ‘Beyond Ad-Hocism: Evaluating India’s Sports Governance Conundrum’, by Neeru Bhatia, from Go! India’s Sporting Transformation, edited by Nandan Kamath and Aparna Ravichandran, Penguin India.