Ministry of Sports bites more than it can chew

The Ministry of Sports has bitten off more than it can chew by saying that the National Sports Federations – registered societies, actually – would cease to have the right to select and depute the national teams for participation in continental and world-level international sports competitions if they did not comply with the guidelines issued on May 1. Before anything else, I must point out that the Ministry was working overtime on issuing the order May Day. In fact, a Ministry official worked harder on Sunday to send a copy of the order to the media on Sunday – well before many federations got to read the order.

The Ministry has used the fact that it funds the training of elite athletes for international competition as a handle to whip the National Sports Federations with. Of course, one the biggest responsibilities of the Ministry is to look after the needs of our elite athletes besides spreading the message of sport across the length and breadth of the country, create infrastructure and cause a greater sports consciousness to be imbibed by each Indian.

Sport must become a national priority and the Ministry of Sports must work to encourage all Indians to play sport and not just watch it on satellite TV, assuming the mantle of critic and join in debates on news TV channels each time a new controversy springs up. It does not seem to have spent energies in developing a sports culture in India even though the Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi offer it a great opportunity.

Come to think of it, the Ministry has failed to deliver in nearly each of its primary tasks. Instead, it has succeeded in perpetrating two popular myths that the National Sports Federations survive on the dole handed out by the Ministry of Sports. The other is that officials of the National Sports Federations siphon off the money rather than spend them on the sportspersons.

Let me place before you some numbers that are found on the website of the Ministry of Sports.

A National Sports Federation gets a grand sum of Rs. 2 lakh as grant to organise its National championship, Rs. 4 lakh for a junior championship and Rs. 6 lakh for a sub-junior championship each year. And, the maximum grant given to a National Sports Federations to hold a World Cup or a World Championship or a Commonwealth or Asian Championship is Rs. 10 lakh.

Anyone who has ever been willing to spend time at a National Championship will understand that a grant of Rs 2 lakh does not pay for even one head of expenditure. In this scenario, I wonder how officials who put together National Championships can siphon off any money. On the contrary, they will have to raise at least 20 times more money than the grant given by the Ministry to successfully stage a National Championship.

India’s sports administration structure is based on a legacy of 75 to 80 years. There is no doubt that it must change and keep pace with modern times. Here is my suggestion: The general body of each National Sports Federation can choose a Board of Directors, which must then hire a team of professionals to run the sport. But that is a huge challenge since India Inc does not seem to support Olympic support as whole heartedly as it does cricket and many international competitions that are shown live on television.

My own take is that is only the electoral college of the National Sports Federations – whose constitutions are duly approved and recognised by the Registrar of Societies under the Societies Act 1860, the Indian Olympic Association and their respective International Sports Federations – that have the right to decide the tenure of the office bearers and executive committee members.

With the International Olympic Committee making it clear that it is the prerogative of the National Olympic Committee to fix the tenure of its officers and members of the executive body, it is clear that the Ministry of Sport will have to bite the bullet. For, any attempt to curb the tenure through an order would be viewed as external interference and a violation of the principle of autonomy expressed in the Olympic Charter.

Of course, all stakeholders in Indian sport – Ministry of Sport, IOA and its affiliates in all States and Union Territories, National Sports Federations and each of its State Associations, athletes, sponsors, broadcast partners and other media as well as fans – must lend their shoulders to keep the wheel of Indian sport on track rather than work to derail it.