Make the biggest contribution to Indian sport, Mr Kalmadi. Just go!

What makes our sports administrators superglue their bottoms to the chair in spite of poor results, and with a stunning lack of accountability or transparency?


Suresh Menon | May 5, 2010

Games our sports bodies play
Games our sports bodies play

 On his website Suresh Kalmadi informs us modestly that “As President of the Indian Olympic Association, (he) got the country the first-ever gold medal in individual event (sic) at the Beijing Olympic (sic) 2008.” Perhaps it is the same modesty that prevents him from mentioning that he has also overseen the decline and fall of Indian hockey, made a mockery of the government’s attempts to introduce a national sports policy, and led the attacks on the guidelines that stipulate the tenure of office-bearers.

The guidelines framed in 1975 [and notified once again on Sunday] said that office-bearers are entitled to only two successive terms of four years each, the second time with a two-thirds majority. In the mid-80s, Kalmadi amended the IOA’s constitution; it was a signal for the other National Sports Federations to follow suit. 

While Kalmadi screamed that the government policy was against the Olympic Charter, others said their federations came under the Societies Act of 1860, and the government could not impose its rules on them. And so they clung on.

It is possible that Vijay Kumar Malhotra has been associated with archery since the time of Dronacharya and Arjun. He has been around for so long as president of the Archery Association of India that youngsters may be forgiven for thinking he invented the sport. Randhir Singh has been the secretary of the Indian Olympic Association for 23 years, Kalmadi its president for 14. In 2006, Kalmadi made himself the life president of the Athletics Federation of India. 

What makes the Kalmadis, the Randhir Singhs, the Malhotras, the Nanavatis (Swimming Federation of India’s top honcho for a quarter century) superglue their bottoms to the chair despite poor results, and with a stunning lack of accountability or transparency?

When M C Chowhan (whose fiefdom was table tennis) died last year at 82, Kalmadi called him a ‘legend’ who wanted to serve Indian sport for “another ten years.” Ask not what you can do for Indian sport – ask what Indian sport can do for you.

And it does plenty. 

Power, pelf, influence, political clout, international exposure – the sportsmen might be denied all these, but the officials wallow in them. Former world billiards champion Michael Ferreira thinks the officials are “drunk on power”, but that is only a part of the picture. Politicians use sports as a platform, and if they divert sports funds for party work none is the wiser because accountability is not their strong suit. There is too the perk of disbursing profitable contracts to near and dear ones.

Any attempt by sports ministers to reign in Kalmadi is foiled by the latter’s political clout as an MP and Gandhi family acolyte. There is also the government’s generally ham handed way of dealing with sports that enables the officials to continue with their selfish, self-glorifying, wallet-thickening ways. [He has termed M S Gill's latest move as draconian and said he and others will take appropriate steps to preserve their autonomy.]

Kalmadi has had spats with the former sports minister Mani Shanker Aiyar as well as the incumbent M S Gill. Gill’s dream is to introduce a bill in parliament that will legalise the many government initiatives of the recent past, including its National Sports Policy and the tenure for office-bearers. But he is up against the powerful lobbies on either side of the political divide which will come together to thwart him.

It is no coincidence that Kalmadi is at the thick of most controversies in Indian sport (cricket excepted because the politics there is of a different order). In recent months there was the flap with Commonwealth Games Federation chief Mike Fennell and CEO Mike Hooper. Then a news channel broke the story of Kalmadi manipulating events so a lucrative contract to build the infrastructure for Formula One would fall into his son’s hands.
As IOA president, he allowed the MoU with Formula One’s commercial rights holding company to lapse. F1 then chose JPSK Sports to take over the contract. By a happy coincidence, Kalmadi's son owns stake in JPSK Sports. It is a Rs 2,500 crore project. You do the math.

And now Kalmadi wants to have a foot in the hockey world. He made a production of handing over Rs 1 crore to the players when they went on strike demanding the money due to them. The ones who paid the money – sponsors Sahara India – got less publicity than the man who merely physically handed over the cheques with a speech straight out of Karan Johar about patriotism and loving your country.

Former Indian hockey captain Pargat Singh has called him ‘mafia’ for his manipulative ways, but it is possible that a compromise will see them work together when the elections are finally held at Kalmadi’s convenience (i.e., when his candidate is assured of victory). Pargat, like most sportsmen who come into administration with a plan for sport, might be given the responsibility of handling the game itself while Kalmadi deals with more important issues like sponsors and foreign trips for himself and his friends.

Backroom manipulations are the key to the longevity of the officials. Decades ago, the tools for garnering support included overseas trips, important events granted by the briber to the bribee in his home state, promise of future benefits and packets of money. Amazingly, nothing has changed. The lesser folk have lesser ambitions and are ready to fall in line to support the bigger folk who have political and money power.
But it wasn’t always thus with Kalmadi. In 1980, at 36, he made his debut as president of the Maharashtra Athletics Association, and within a decade had made himself an important figure in the national body. He introduced the Permit Meets and was responsible for Carl Lewis running in India. But the enthusiasm soon gave way to world-weariness, the interest on field to manoueuvres off field, guided by ego (he walked out of a function to honour India’s Olympic medal winners because he was not given a seat next to the vice president of India) and a desire to claim credit without actually working for it.

Recent events, however, give some hope.
The Delhi High Court on a writ petition against the then Indian Hockey Federation has ruled that the guidelines on tenure are “maintainable and enforceable.” In January, a district court said that the National Rifle Association of India's president Digvijay Singh (in office since 1999) and secretary general (since 1985) Baljit Sethi had flouted norms of tenure. These brought the long-forgotten and much-ignored guidelines into focus again. 

A public interest litigation (by advocate Rahul Mehra) admitted by the Delhi High Court has taken the IOA to task for “working actively to the detriment of the very sports they are supposed to further,” asked for the setting up of a Sports Regulatory Authority and for elections to be overseen by observers appointed by the chief election commissioner. It has directed that the government start an “independent investigation into the functioning and the accounts of the Indian Olympic Association…” and much more.

These are signs that the public has not entirely given up on Indian sport with a shrug and a “things-will-never-change” sigh. 

Kalmadi has the Commonwealth Games to worry about in the meantime. His Gandhi connection sagged a bit after the scrap with the Games chief. M S Gill clearly has the ear of the prime minister. Still, any confrontation will have to wait. Indian sport will be in a holding pattern till the end of the Games. If Gill is allowed to clean the Augean stables thereafter, we are in for interesting times. 

Perhaps Kalmadi’s website will say then, “Made a great contribution to Indian sport by retiring from administration and convincing those like me to do so too.”




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