Giving the game away

We need professionalism and accountability in sports administration

The crisis in Indian sports has come to a head with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspending the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the body that governs Olympic sport in India. Things might not have come to this if the members of the IOA had been more invested in the development of sports and athletes in the country.

The lack of professionalism is not just a problem for the IOA. The Indian Amateur Boxing Federation has been suspended by the International Boxing Association, and the Archery Association of India (AAI) has been derecognised by the Indian government. The sports ministry also issued a notice to the Athletics Federation of India, questioning its election procedures. In all likelihood, other associations will face similar bans.

Every sports association in India must use this as a chance for introspection. Indian athletes have made significant gains in the past few years, and we cannot squander these gains because of administrative issues. The recent suspensions have foregrounded the lack of accountability and transparency in the governance of sports federations. We cannot make cosmetic changes in the way these organisations are managed, only to face a similar situation a few years down the line. A serious overhaul of the standards of sports governance is necessary.

Parliament must pass a bill that covers all Olympic and international sport. It should ensure that the IOA and other federations adopt higher standards of governance. More athletes must participate in sports administration. There must be age and tenure restrictions on office bearers. For example, the AAI has been administered by the same president for over 40 years. This has allowed the organisation, and Indian archery, to stagnate. The Indian sports code, which sets the age limit for the heads of sports associations at 70 and restricts their tenure to 12 years, should be upheld. Passing a sports bill would be doing a great service to the aspirations of future Indian athletes.

Professionalism needs to be brought into sports administration. This may not yield immediate results in terms of sporting victories or medals, but it will enhance the performance and quality of Indian athletes.

There are several aspects of sports governance that need urgent reform. One, more former athletes and experts must actively participate in governance. Champions must be built. Talent must be found, skill sandpapered, techniques tuned and minds strengthened. This requires a relentless pursuit of greatness. Sports must be taken to the grassroots, and young people must be given opportunities to develop their talent.

We must make a clear distinction between administrators and experts, for sport has a managerial aspect and a training aspect. Former athletes don't always understand organisation, while administrators can't fathom the intricacies of the sport. Each must know his place. For far too long, Indian sports administrators have held on to their positions to serve vested interests; the athlete has been the last priority on their agenda. The time has come for a different type of sports administrator to enter the arena: one who has integrity, passion for the development of Indian sports and the athletes' interest foremost in his mind.

Sports governance must also deal with the matter of raising finances. In India, 98 per cent of all funding for international sports comes from the government. Why is there no private or corporate sponsorship? In the US, corporate sponsors provide 95 per cent of the funds. One of the main reasons that Indian Olympic sports federations do not attract private sponsorship is the lack of transparency in the governance of these bodies. No one is willing to be held accountable for the money.

Officials must be accountable for their entire tenure. Just like athletes, they too must face frequent performance reviews to evaluate their success in the development of the sport they preside over. This cannot always be measured in terms of medals, but in the enhancement in the standards of the sport and the participation of young athletes. Officials must organise programmes that enable sports to grow. They must provide opportunities for sports in schools and develop a club culture.

Only greater accountability, transparency and new standards of professionalism in sports association can ensure that India continues to participate in, and excel at, international sports.

The writer is a world and Olympic champion in air rifle shooting

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