Ajay Maken’s pet project, the Sports Bill, was aimed at ushering transparency and accountability in the functioning of sports federations. However, the Cabinet rejected it in August and asked the sports minister to rework it. Armed with a new Bill, he is ready to try his luck again. But the BCCI is still unhappy. And it can influence the Cabinet. Why is the Bill so important? Has it been diluted to please a few? In a candid chat with Janani Ganesan and Himanshu Shekhar, Maken explains the changes to the Bill that could have far-reaching impact.
Excerpts From An Interview
Why is the Sports Bill so important?
In order to reform sports in India, we have to tackle three major problems. One is that sports is not broad-based and there is no culture of sports or physical fitness. The second issue is that we don’t have proper coaches because none of our training programmes are of international standard. The third is that the corporate sector is willing to pump in money, but is unable to do so. There are many sports in which tournaments don’t happen at the national level, where government funds are not utilised properly. Whereas in sports such as cricket, there is efficiency in organisation but not transparency. All these problems need to be addressed. So we have used all aspects to make a comprehensive Bill.
But why weren’t these problems addressed earlier? Why has it taken so long for reforms to happen?
My predecessors tried to bring in changes through guidelines and government orders. But they were met with limited success. We realised that unless we bring in reforms through legislation, they won’t be implemented. No Bill is a panacea for all evils. But I feel that the rest of the things will follow automatically. Corporates will be more confident in investing in sports when there is more transparency. Now they are not sure whether their money is going into the game and the players or into the pockets of sports administrators.
But the BCCI has managed to get corporate sponsorships.
Yes, but the problem with the BCCI is that its dealings are opaque. That is why we keep hearing about cricket-related scams.
Many people have opposed the Bill. How do you plan to take them on board?
I will take the Bill to the Cabinet again. If it gets passed, it will be placed before Parliament in the winter session. Last time when I had taken it to the Cabinet, some people had expressed reservations. We hope that this time it will be given the goahead. Because we have removed the clauses that led people into believing that we are intent on usurping the powers of the federations. We have retained the age and tenure norms. Clauses against unethical practices have been retained. In RTI, exemptions have been given in the antidoping clause, which was earlier opposed by the players. For instance, under RTI, the health or physical fitness of players will not be disclosed. Selection criteria will not be disclosed. The RTI clause had included the selection criteria in the first draft. But the players said that they would be at a competitive disadvantage if such matters are discussed in the public domain. The important thing is that players will get 25 percent representation in the boards of the federations, with voting rights. This is one of the strong points of the Bill.
If the selection jury doesn’t have anything to hide, why can’t such details be made available under RTI because selections are often marred by nepotism allegations?
There are issues at the state level, but not so much at the national level. At the national level, which player is selected or not, is always under public scrutiny. I spoke with many players and their positives and negatives shouldn’t be brought into the public domain because no other nation does it. Our aim is to get the Bill passed. Tweaking it a bit is to achieve that aim.
‘It’s not about trying to control federations, the Bill is a roadmap about how they should regulate themselves’
In spite of these tweaks, the BCCI is still unhappy and some members have claimed that the Bill is intrusive.
Yes, unfortunately they still disapprove. They don’t want to be registered with the government. As of now, every federation has to register itself annually. But we have done away with this clause. Now, any federation, which has been given annual recognition, will be deemed to be registered with the government. They need not come again to the government. They only have to be accountable to a body, the Sports Appellate Tribunal, which would be appointed by a committee headed by the Chief Justice of India. So, the government has kept itself out of the tribunal. Retired judges will be members of the tribunal. This Bill is not about trying to control federations. It only gives a roadmap as to how they should regulate themselves.
Have you initiated dialogue with the BCCI?
We wrote a letter to the BCCI and they replied, rejecting everything, including players’ participation in the executive body. That a federation opposes even 25 percent representation of players in their executive body is very strange to me. And as for the RTI, if they have nothing to hide, why should they be opposed to RTI?
But some federations have pointed out that players cannot be administrators and hence they should not be on the board.
We are not saying that everybody should be made office-bearers. We want to make them part of the executive body. I read an article, which pointed out that the IPL calendar is taking a heavy toll on the players. This is just one of the aspects. If they had players among the executive, they would be able to give inputs on all aspects.
Has any other federation expressed reservations?
Only the BCCI and the IOA have sent negative replies. Two CMs have written to the prime minister against this Bill. Even CMs of Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are against it, citing the technical aspect of the Central government’s unconstitutionality of legislating on the Bill. That the BJP is also against the Bill has to be kept in mind. But the Attorney General has opined that we can legislate since it only concerns the federations. Even court rulings have been in our favour.
There are some federation members who have pointed out that Parliamentarians don’t have an age limit, why should sports administrators have one?
Parliamentarians are elected directly by the people. Anybody above the age of 18 can cast a vote. But when it comes to sports bodies, it is not universal franchise. The electoral college is chosen and restricted to few. And hence candidates should also have restrictions.
Janani Ganesan is a Trainee Correspondent with Tehelka.