On August 1, 2016, the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences readied itself for an MRI scan to test a patient for dementia.

Unlike other patients at the reputed hospital, this 67-year old patient, housed in room number 1001 of the CN Tower building of AIIMS, was admitted from Tihar Jail and the Rs 12,000 deposit for the tests had come from the jail authorities.

Drunk with power

That patient was none other than Suresh Kalmadi, who had been convicted three months before his admission to AIIMS and had been sent to Tihar for his alleged involvement in the a corruption scandal associated with the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Dementia had been a last-ditch effort for Kalmadi to escape prison, but he was to spend seven more months in jail before being granted bail. The former president of the Indian Olympic Association had planned to attend the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, but had been barred from doing so by a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, which said, “His participation can cause embarrassment to the country.” As it turns out, Kalmadi did not have dementia.

For 15 years, starting 1996, Kalmadi had unopposed control over the IOA, serving as its president. On December 27 this year, the IOA decided to elect both Kalmadi and Abhay Chautala, another former president of the body and the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation as “life presidents”.

It is important to keep in mind that both the IOA and the IABF had been suspended by the International Olympic Committee and the Amateur International Boxing Association on charges of corruption when Chautala was in charge of them. The IOC’s rules dictate that charge-sheeted individuals cannot contest a National Olympic Committee’s elections, leading to the suspension of the IOA in 2012.

The decision to elect them to “honourary positions”, as incumbent IOA President N Ramachandran chose to call it, was taken at an Annual General Meeting of the association. Also present at the meeting were IOA Vice-President Tarlochan Singh and Board of Control for Cricket in India President Anurag Thakur, both part of the IOA’s executive committee. Singh was defiant about the appointments and called them a “unanimous decision” taken by the IOA well within its rights. “Moreover, all the past presidents have been made Life Presidents or Patrons,” he went on to add.

For the record, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, acting president of the IOA in 2011 and 2012, is the only existing life president of the IOA according to its website. Although both Kalmadi and Chautala relinquished their posts, their appointment was questionable and definitely avoidable. The sports ministry has also attacked the IOA, but interference by the government is in clear violation of the IOC’s code and could lead to the association being banned once again. Even Sports Minister Vijay Goel made sense for a change.

The ministry and anyone else wishing to clean up the IOA will be treading a thin line but it was clear that Kalmadi wasn’t the only one with dementia problems. The IOA clearly needs a wake-up call to recall its chequered past, as it jumped to give two tainted individuals power by proxy.

Suresh Kalmadi was implicated in one of the biggest scams to ever hit Indian sport (Image credit: Reuters)
Suresh Kalmadi was implicated in one of the biggest scams to ever hit Indian sport (Image credit: Reuters)

Kalmadi no stranger to controversy

Five years after being implicated in one of the biggest scams to ever hit Indian sport, what sort of unhealthy power does Kalmadi wield to earn such a recall? The 2010 Commonwealth Games was the largest multi-sport event India was hosting after the 1982 Asian Games. India’s audition to hold a global extravaganza ended in chaos with multiple financial scandals cropping up, coupled with organisational mismanagement.

The organising chairman of the Games, Kalmadi, and the rest of Organising Committee were examined for financial irregularities and corruption, leading to inflation in several contracts awarded by the Central Vigilance Commission, which filed a total of 53 cases against the OC.

The bulk of the initial Rs 350 crore budget, borne by the taxpayer, was estimated to be inflated to Rs 37,500 crore by the time the games were over. Kalmadi and eight others were finally implicated by the CBI for the irregularities in a contract awarded to a Swiss firm for the Timing-Scoring-Result System at an excessive cost of Rs 90 crore.

The Games were an unmitigated disaster for India and the sporting world’s outlook towards the country’s hosting abilities, with several domestic and international media outlets reporting on shoddy arrangements, especially infrastructure in the Games village.

A former Congress MP from Pune and Minister of State for Railways in 1995-’96, Kalmadi again courted controversy when Formula One and Indian consortium JPSK Sports Private Limited had inked a Rs 1600-crore deal to bring the sport to India.

Kalmadi, in his position as IOA chief, had boasted that the association would help in building infrastructure for the event. However, the Indian Express had reported some months later that Kalmadi’s son, Sumeer Kalmadi, was a part owner in JPSK with the initials SK a supposed nod to Sumeer Kalmadi. Suresh Kalmadi’s daughter and son-in-law were independent directors of the company.

At 72, Kalmadi, despite being under trial, remains close to the power centres of sport in the country. A mere four months after an abysmal showing at the Rio Olympics, despite assurances of large-scale policy changes and more vigilant administration, the IOA shows no signs of the overnight changes that it promised as the “yes-men” at its helm fail to stay away from the limelight rightfully meant for the true heroes, the athletes.