‘The CWG will actually be remembered as the Common Whore Games’

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In a freewheeling chat, Mani Shankar Aiyar tells Vaibhav Vats how he was forced out of the sports ministry and his radical document for sporting revolution junked. And why we should not let ourselves be bullied by Suresh Kalmadi

In a freewheeling chat, Mani Shankar Aiyar tells VAIBHAV VATS how he was forced out of the sports ministry and his radical document for sporting revolution junked. And why we should not let ourselves be bullied by Suresh Kalmadi..

There has always been discontent and a feeling that officials are not fair to the athletes. There are persistent allegations of favouritism in selection. These complaints are not new, but with the Commonwealth Games (CWG) on the horizon, it is receiving more attention than before. Unless there is a serious restructuring of the sporting bodies and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), there is no hope. The rot is too deep to be sorted out with just symbolic steps.

As sports minister, what were you trying to fix through your sports policy?
Population-wise, the medals we have won are the lowest per capita of any country in the world. Even small countries such as Cuba are way ahead of us. But Cuba has shown the ease with which we can transform a non-sporting nation into a sporting one. We just have to ensure that facilities are provided to all segments. It is not possible to win medals until all schools are equipped with sporting facilities. Statistics show that almost 95 percent of our schools have no facilities for sport.

What were the obstacles that you faced?
In April 2007, I made a detailed presentation opposing the bid for the 2015 Asian Games, after which the prime minister asked me to draft a comprehensive sports policy. In about two months, we prepared what I still regard as the most outstanding sports policy ever. From June, when I started meeting with sport federations, Suresh Kalmadi prevented the associate bodies of the IOA from having any interaction with us. He refused to attend any discussions.

How were you removed from the job?
I was invited to deliver a talk in New Zealand on the draft policy. I was hurrying back to India to attend a Cabinet meeting, hoping the policy would be discussed. During my stopover in Hong Kong, I was informed that I had been dismissed. In the Cabinet meeting two days later, MS Gill withdrew the sports policy.

Why was the policy junked?
After my removal it was de-cided that the Sports Ministry should become the CWG ministry. When it reverts to its original role, we may have some hope. We were told that the CWG would help us showcase the true picture of modern India. I must congratulate Kalmadi for having successfully projected the real picture. It is an India of corruption, inefficiency and, now regrettably, sex. The only sector thriving is the call-girl industry, so much so that the CWG will actually be remembered as the Common Whore Games.

How was your experience working with the CWG’S organising committee?
It was very distressing. At every step, the committee tried to sideline the Sports Ministry. The Group of Ministers backed the committee to the hilt, which almost sanctified the committee’s approach towards the Sports Ministry.

You have been opposing mega sporting events and called for building infrastructure at the grassroots. Why have we not been able to do this until now? 
The Planning Commission refused approval for Rs.6,000 crore to be spent over a period of 10 years, while we were spending Rs. 60,000 crore on the CWG. The annual expenditure for Panchayat-level sport has been less than Rs. 200 crore. We need to have local complexes all over India and then create a few specialised institutions. Just as we have managed to conquer Silicon Valley with half-a-dozen IITs, we can achieve excellence in sport as well. We have to turn ourselves into a sporting nation and then host mega events.

How can we replicate the phenomenal success of China?
You have to think this through from the cradle to the grave. Now, the sporting bodies take no responsibility for widening the talent pool. When an outstanding talent comes through, they claim credit for it. What they are doing is catching the occasional fish, instead of having a talent pond in every village and school. China hosted the Beijing Olympics, but also won the highest number of medals. At the CWG, we are happy to beat the likes of Bermuda and Barbados. The CWG are a good example of false pride, based on false values and priorities.

What ails the Indian Olympic Association?
The IOA belongs to a universe which doesn’t represent the real India. More than 75 percent of our population is living on less than 20 a day. IOA officials are spending 20 per second and have no consideration for the common man. And they have defined a world class event as spending more than anyone else did. No surprise, we have the farce about the toilet rolls, treadmills and this lack of fiscal responsibility. The IOA is a financial cripple, completely dependent on the government. If they were self-financing like the BCCI, then the public money won’t come into the picture.

How did you plan to put an end to that?
We made suggestions to form a Sports Regulatory Authority which may be established by the government or an Act of Parliament, but will function in an independent manner. We have the experience of regulatory authorities in the financial and telecom sectors. There is no reason why, without compromising the IOA’s autonomy, we can’t have a regulator. If the government takes control, it won’t work. On the other hand, if we leave them completely free, then the kind of irresponsible activity we are seeing now will go on.

But you face objections from the International Olympic Committee…
It is because the minute Kalmadi is held responsible by the government, he goes crying to the IOC and encourages them to send threatening letters. These are then leaked to the media even before they reach the ministry. Should we be putting up with this kind of bullying? And that too from Kalmadi, who is the most discredited person in India today.

How can politicians be kept away from the sport bodies?
They shouldn’t. But I object to a system which functions like a crony democracy. Why is it that only sports officials are electing other sports officials? The average sportsperson has no say in this. We have a Parliament elected by 700 million people and sports federations elected by 70 people.

Why hasn’t the government done anything to stop this? We see one person holding several positions in many federations...
You can’t, as they are completely autonomous. But I don’t think there is sanctity to autonomy. We must insist that the Olympic charter cannot prevent our country from having a sports law, and create a regulatory authority that is independent from government control. Countries such as France have a similar sports law. But if the Indian government is not ready to consider this, there is no hope.

What is the way forward?
Once these wretched Games are behind us, I hope the cabinet will look at the sports policy draft. By having a 11-day jamboree in New Delhi, the idea that you can become a sporting nation is nonsense. We had the Asian Games in 1951 and ’82, did they make us a sporting nation? Even if a percentage of the money spent on the CWG had been pumped into real sport, we would have been producing champions. But we have put the money into these tamashas.

Photos: Shailendra Pandey

vaibhav@tehelka.com

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