India seeks sports overhaul after suspensions
NEW DELHI: The administration of Olympic sports in India could face a major overhaul after world bodies and the government cracked down on the power games played by self-seeking politicians.
In a week of dramatic developments, India was suspended from the Olympic movement, the boxing federation was thrown out of world meets and the government withdrew recognition from the archery association.
Until the suspensions are lifted, Indian athletes will be barred from the Olympics, and the boxers and archers excluded from world meets. But many see the current mess as an opportunity to clean up the system.
“Indian sports DETOX begins,” tweeted rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist who won the 10m event at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi told the espnstar.com website that it was a “culmination of dirty politics”.
But the doubles specialist added the suspensions would be a blessing in disguise for Indian sports “as long as someone in a position to make a difference takes the lead and starts cleaning up the mess one by one”.
Politicians and officials, who regarded national sports federations as their personal fiefdoms, suddenly found themselves cornered – but typically remained unrepentant.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended India’s membership on Tuesday for unethical practices during a controversial election process in the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).
The IOA still went ahead with the polls a day later, despite the IOC insisting they were unauthorised and illegal, and even elected tainted official Lalit Bhanot as its secretary-general unopposed.
Bhanot is on bail after serving 11 months in jail last year on corruption charges during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, when he was secretary-general of the organising committee.
Haryana state politician Abhey Singh Chautala was elected IOA president, also unopposed, but found his position as chairman of the national boxing federation under scrutiny by the sport’s world governing body.
The International Boxing Association (AIBA) provisionally suspended the Indian federation on Thursday, saying Chautala had manipulated rules to ease himself into the newly-created post of chairman after having his brother-in-law elected president.
The Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) suffered a double blow when it was also suspended by the federal sports ministry, which provides financial backing, and ordered to hold fresh elections within 15 days.
Chautala said he was willing to give up the chairman’s post if the impasse could be resolved.
“We are ready for a re-election,” Chautala told AFP. “The AIBA can send its observer and fix a new date. I am clear that we have not done anything wrong.”
The sports ministry further waded into the mess by withdrawing recognition from the national archery association for flouting age and tenure guidelines of the government’s sports code.
The archery association has been headed for the past 40 years by 81-year-old Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a senior member of India’s main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
An unripentant Malhotra lashed out at the ministry’s action, saying his body did not recognise the sports code, which limits the age of office-bearers to 70 and a tenure of not more than 12 years.
“The sports code has no legal sanctity,” he said. “It is not an act, nor is it a part of the constitution.”
All sports federations in India, barring the cash-rich cricket board, depend on the government for funding training facilities and taking part in meets both in the country and abroad.
India secured its biggest ever Olympic medal haul at the London Games this year, winning two silver and four bronze medals.