Sports Minister backs IOC directive barring tainted officials from contesting elections

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Jitendra Singh
Jitendra Singh Photo: PTI

Sports Minister Jitendra Singh sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), agreeing with its directive on keeping tainted officials out of sports bodies, while expressing disappointment at the rebellious stance taken by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) at it’s Special General Meeting.

Even as the minister supported the IOC, Rakesh Gupta, Joint Secretary, IOA justified their opposition saying, “We have said that even our parliamentarians are not subject to such rules with respect to contesting elections just because they are chargesheeted and there is no such rule in the Olympic Charter either. So why should such a rule be applicable to us?” The enforcement of this rule stands to oust and keep away officials like former President Suresh Kalmadi, Lalit Bhanot and VK Verma who were all chargesheeted in the 2010 Commonwealth Games scam.

Olympic gold medalist shooter Abhinav Bindra pressed for the need to properly define what has been asked of the IOA: “The IOA’s argument is that anyone can be chargesheeted and so it’s unfair. But what we’re talking about is the framing of charges against an official. It means that the judge had had a look at the investigation report, found enough reason to proceed with the case after the accused is given a chance to defend himself and that’s a more advanced stage than chargesheeting. So the IOA’s argument doesn’t hold.”

Moreover, sports enthusiast and lawyer, Rahul Mehra clarifies that the “Olympic Charter does mention that it can take disciplinary action against those who bring disrepute to the association or Olympic movement. There are previous orders, in which the IOC has recommended the suspension of officials just for being arrested, forget having charges framed by a court. The IOA’s alternative proposal to the IOC was that a convicted official with a sentence of two years or more should be barred from holding a post and if the sentence was less than two years, it should be decided upon by the IOA’s Ethics Commission.”

“The conflict is that it is the President of the IOA and its members that select the Ethics Commission. How will they keep these officials out? Further they’ve twisted other rules in their favour entirely,” says Mehra. A further point of conflict is that the IOA officials choose to follow the law of the land or the Olympic Charter as and when it suits them. On one hand, the likes of Lalit Bhanot, whose election as Secretary General, IOA, led the IOC to derecognise the elections altogether and oppose the chargesheeting rule saying that there is no such law in India. On the other hand, acting President VK Malhotra (81) opposes the Sports Code due to the age-tenure restrictions that would boot him out of the IOA saying that the IOA is only answerable to the IOC, which does not enforce the Sports Code, and so it is not applicable.

“IOA officials have pitched more harmful amendments such as disallowing the federation to be able to fight cases in a court of law. They instead propose to have these cases go to the Arbitration Commission, again set up by the IOA. Even age-tenure restrictions apply only to the top 3 office-bearers and there’s no clause for the 25% minimum representation for athletes. They just don’t care about athletes or sports, it’s that simple,” adds Mehra.

Ironically, while the Sports Minister wrote to the IOC, PK Deb, Secretary (Sports) said that the Sports Ministry has no legal right or power to intervene at the moment. “We support the IOC stand, but this is a matter between the IOA and IOC. The IOC, in a letter, officially told us six months ago in the context of the Sports Code debate that insistence amounts to interference of the government. So we can only comment informally as government interference can be a reason for the IOC to continue the ban on IOA.”

Though Andrew Mitchell, Media Relations Manager, IOC clarifies that IOC observers would first have to go through the recommendations for the IOC to take a decision, he adds that it may take some time “bearing in mind that we are gearing up for the IOC session in Buenos Aires, Argentina.” Incidentally, the decision regarding which sport among wrestling, squash and baseball is to be included in the 2020 Olympics will be taken at the IOC session to be held from 7-10 September. The constant defiance of IOC recommendations by the IOA may well result in the harsher disciplinary action of expulsion.

BVP Rao, Convenor of Clean Sports India (an NGO for corruption-free sports) says that expulsion may be a welcome step. “If they expel the IOA, they’ll ask for an ad-hoc body to be set up to carry out its functions in the interim and also to oversee a fair election procedure. That may help weed out personally invested officials who eagerly cling to power – even at the risk of harming the very sports movement they’re meant to lead.”

Similarly, the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) had suspended the Boxing Federation of India (BFI), directing it to hold new and fair elections and adopt the AIBA Constitution. It has recently once again reiterated that the participation of Indian athletes and coaches would stand banned, which would be far more humiliating for India than the present restriction of not being able to play under the Indian flag due to the suspension. In fact, the AIBA has recently allowed Indian boxers to participate in the World Championships 2013, Almaty to be held in October, but stated that they would be barred from further international events if the BFI failed to hold new elections by 4 November. One can only hope that through government intervention, our sporting bodies comply with the directions of their governing international organisations. After all, the future of Indian sports is at stake.

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