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With the apex court endorsing the findings of the Lodha panel, lawmakers will find it easier to frame effective legislation to debar politicians from holding office in sport federations

By Ajith Pillai

 The money-spinning IPL has been at the center of several corruption controversies
The money-spinning IPL has been at the center of several corruption controversies

There is this story that someone close to Veerappa Moily, Union law minister in UPA-II, likes to narrate. It does not have to do with the former minister’s literary pursuits in his mother tongue, Kannada, nor his vision of India as a future superpower spelt out in four volumes in English titled Unleashing India. It has all to do with Moily’s effort to cleanse sports and push through a Bill in 2011 that would bar politicians from heading sports federations. The move did not find favor with his own cabinet colleagues or politicians from all major political parties.

STICKLERS FOR POWER

The Sports Development Bill (2011) was summarily rejected at a cabinet meeting in August 2011. Among those who objected were ministers who headed sports federations or were closely associated with them—Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel, Farooq Abdullah, Rajiv Shukla and Jyotiraditya Scindia. It was a major embarrassment for then sports minister Ajay Maken as well as Moily.

Later, a revised form of the draft bill was prepared by a working group of legal experts and former and current sportspersons under the chairmanship of Justice (Retd) Mukul Mudgal. But the proposed law has not been tabled in parliament so far and media reports suggest that it has all but been abandoned by the NDA government. By all accounts, there is stiff resistance from the political establishment to any clean-up effort vis-à-vis sports. 

(L-R) Rajya Sabha MP and senior BCCI functionary Rajiv Shukla, and NCP president and former BCCI President Sharad Pawar stand to lose their clout if the reforms are implemented
(L-R) Rajya Sabha MP and senior BCCI functionary Rajiv Shukla, and NCP president and former BCCI President Sharad Pawar stand to lose their clout if the reforms are implemented

With the recent Supreme Court ruling on July 18, 2016, upholding the Lodha Committee recommendations on reforming the BCCI, there is a view emerging that it is time that some of the Committee’s recommendations be applied to other sports federations as well. Congress leader and Supreme Court lawyer Manish Tewari, who represented ex-cricketers Bishan Singh Bedi and Kirti Azad in the apex court in the BCCI matter, felt that it is time for other sports bodies to ring in changes, however unpalatable.

“Why should other sports be treated differently from cricket? What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I think the time has come that the Lodha Committee recommendations should be used as a template and the principles should be applied across the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and all the sports federations,” Tewari told a news agency following the SC judgment.

REASON FOR RESISTANCE

So why are sports bodies resistant to any government oversight or accountability? The main argument advanced has been that it would impinge on their autonomy through official interference. When the Draft Sport Development Bill was submitted to various stakeholders in 2011 and its revised form two years later, it was pointed out that there was no international precedent of such a broad sweep law covering all sports and that India would be the first to implement it.co11

Most sports bodies the world over had self-regulatory mechanism and the judicial system came into the picture only when there was any illegality or crime involved like match-fixing. Moreover, it was argued that government involvement cannot guarantee professionalism in sports management.

Sports federations, including the IOA, were also uncomfortable with age limits and limiting tenure duration of its office-bearers as well as restrictions on ministers and government servants to be included. But the apex court ruling on the Lodha Committee recommendations has provided clarity on all these issues. In effect, a template, as Manish Tewari put it, has been provided.

But behind all the objections, it is easy to see the sub-text: our politicians are loath to give up control over sports federations that they so immensely enjoy. According to the Delhi-based Centre for Public Policy Research, there are 70 recognized sports federations of which 38 are headed by politicians. What is worse, once the takeover happens, the netas and their cohorts don’t let go.

Remember Jagdish Tytler headed the Judo Federation for 25 years and when age caught up with him, he quit only to become a patron for life! Then there is the Archery Federation which was headed by BJP’s Vijay Malhotra for 40 years (he is now honorary life president). The list goes on spanning all parties….

SPORTSPERSONS TAKE OVER

Sportspersons over the years have been harping on the fact that politicians need to be kept out of federations, which in turn have to function with transparency. Here is a representative sampling of what two icons of Indian athletics reportedly said. “For the good of sport, sportsmen should be at the helm of affairs,” said Milkha Singh, former track and field sprinter.c0 18

“We have seen several politicians at the helm of various sports bodies in the country and there has not been much improvement. I feel the time has come for sportspersons to take over.” That is what ace sprinter PT Usha said. Her views are endorsed by the likes of Ashwini Nachappa, Kirti Azad and Bishen Singh Bedi.

But critics will argue that getting rid of politicians from sports federations and bringing them under government oversight by passing a law will not bring professionalism to sport. In fact, the sports ministry has a poor track record in this regard. Perhaps the private sector needs to be more involved. This was articulated in an assessment of the Draft Sports Development Bill by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

To quote FICCI: “Industry’s importance and role must be stressed beyond the context of collaboration with National Sports Federations (NSFs). There is mention of introducing and implementing professional management and processes within the sports domain. Industry will be able to impart and introduce more stringent and fiscally professional and responsible practices therefore it must be given a defined role within the Sports Bill and the Sports Code. There is a strong case for public private partnerships (PPPs) for infrastructure related and capital intensive initiatives. Industry can also contribute to human capital res-ource projects such as skill training, and professional management expertise.”

PROFESSIONAL MANAGEMENT

However, pundits warn that wanton commercialization of sports comes with its own set of problems as has been illustrated in the case of cricket. Admittedly, professional management of sports bodies is the answer to many of the ills that currently plague sports federations which are run like fiefdoms by politicians.

Perhaps, to break their stranglehold and to professionalize sport, a legal framework needs to be put in place, otherwise change will be resisted.

While delivering their verdict on the Lodha Committee recommendations, the apex court bench of Chief Justice of India TS Thakur and Justice FMI Kalifulla made this significant observation: “The truth is that resistance to change stems partly from people getting used to the status quo and partly because any change is perceived to affect their vested interest in terms of loss of ego, status, power or resources. This is true particularly when the suggested change is structural or organisational which involves some threat, real or perceived, of personal loss to those involved.”

Justice Lodha (left) has suggested sweeping reforms to rid cricket of corruption. Justice Mukul Mudgal (right) exposed the peril of betting in IPL.
Justice Lodha (left) has suggested sweeping reforms to rid cricket of corruption. Justice Mukul Mudgal (right) exposed the peril of betting in IPL.

If the BCCI resisted change till now despite the spot-fixing scandal, then it is difficult to see sports federations change in the absence of a law. The latest Supreme Court verdict can help our lawmakers frame a new and effective legislation that would be holistic and good for sport in the country

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