All 54 Federations suspended: Power struggle in Indian sports

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In a news that would normally have sent shockwaves across the Indian sporting fraternity, all 54 sports federations of the country have been de-recognized following a Delhi High Court ruling.

The federations are usually given recognition for an annual period by the Sports Ministry in January every year, but the process was delayed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and other issues. The Ministry then granted provisional recognition till only September this year, however this recognition was struck down by the Court. It is notable the this provisional recognition also extended to the federations for Golf, School Games and Rowing, which were de-recognized since some time.

Had it not been for the pandemic, due to which sports events and most training camps are cancelled, the High Court decision would have been a jolt to athletes and coaches. Despite a few errant federations, some others like those of hockey, boxing and shooting have been proactive in promoting and improving their respective sports in recent times. A number of smaller NSFs depend on government funding to manage expenditure. Also, we are only one year away from the next Olympics.

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has spoken out on this issue, as have sportspersons and coaches. All have reiterated that the preparations of athletes will not be affected.

What this episode does highlight, however, is the ‘Game of Thrones’ type power-play going on behind the scenes. First there were the reports of infighting between the two senior most IOA officials Narinder Batra and Rajeev Mehta. There have been many allegations and a lot of mudslinging between the two factions. Then there was the statement of Karate Association of India general-secretary Ambedkar Gupta, who has also sent a legal notice to Batra. The KAI has been disaffiliated by the world karate body, and the sport is being managed by an ad-hoc committee set up by the IOA.

Rahul Mehra. PC:Mid-Day

Then there is the role of lawyer Rahul Mehra, on whose PIL the High Court ordered the decision. Mehra is someone whose name often comes up whenever there are any sports-governance related debates in the country. The Aam Aadmi Party co-founder Mehra has had a long-standing feud with the IOA, and has also targeted the BCCI, SAI and Hockey India among others.

At the center of the controversy is the National Sports Code. The Code has been in effect since 2011, but was revised in 2017. The IOA has rejected the changes made in 2017. The chaotic implementation of the Code has been a cause for much of the uncertainty. The most recent update is the resignation of Hockey India president Mushtaque Ahmad following the Sports Code guidelines.

As Indian sports fans, it is disappointing to still see the intrigues that have plagued sports administrative bodies since long. It has been a decade since the Delhi Commonwealth Games when the ugly corruption in Indian sports was exposed to the world. Since then, and especially after the Rio 2016 debacle, a lot of improvements are said to have been made. Then there was the stellar showing of athletes at the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games.

With about a year to go for Tokyo 2021, and the schedule of athletes having been disrupted by the pandemic, it’s unfortunate that the top brass and self-proclaimed activists have a lot of time at hand to play politics. Now would have been an ideal time for all stakeholders to unite and draw out a roadmap for the next one year.

Another repeat of the Rio Olympics at Tokyo next year can setback any progress made over the last few years and be disastrous for the future of Indian sports. It is hoped that the Sports Ministry can ask the administrators and activists to come together and discuss issues amicably for the good of the athletes, coaches and fans.

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