Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Maken’s Bill is good…..sports need better administration

Maken’s Bill has been unnecessarily panned by MPs from his own party as well as those belonging to the opposition. On the face of it, the Bill intends to correct India’s pathetic showing in sports in general. On the other hand, the Bill could end up interfering in the autonomous workings of various sports federations. That’s why we must evaluate Maken’s suggestions objectively. Unfortunately, the Bill has got mired in controversies even before it has entered Parliament. Let’s evaluate the need for this Bill…..but lets first keep cricket out. We’ll cover that later in this post.

Of course, we need to have a clear and aggressive sports policy. Everyone knows that India fares poorly in almost all sports apart from cricket. Our results in the Olympics reveals it all. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, India won its best ever tally of 3 medals out of a total of 958 medals awarded. We got only one gold out of more than 300 Golds awarded. We finished 50th in the medals tally. We finished behind even countries like Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Thailand. India participated in only 13 sports out of the total 28 offered. In the biggest sport – Athletics – India did not get even one medal out of 144 awarded. In the second biggest sport – Swimming – where 108 medals were awarded, our four competitors could not even reach the Semi Finals. In the third and fourth most awarded sports – Gymnastics and Cycling – India did not even participate. Why, India did not even qualify for the Olympics in a sport that many in the country still love more than cricket – Hockey. We could not even participate in the weightlifting competition because of doping scandals.

It’s only in smaller games like the Asiads and the Common Wealth Games that India manages to put up a slightly better show. In the 2010 Asiads, India finished sixth, but with a medals tally of only 64 out of more than 1500 awarded. It’s only in the Commonwealth games, where the number of participating countries reduces hugely, that we do better. In the Melbourne CWG games in 2006, India finished fourth; in Delhi in 2010, we finished 2nd.

Forget the tally of medals won. Just look at the sporting infrastructure that exists in all these sports. There is hardly any facilities which match up to international standards; hardly any international tournaments played in the country; hardly any reasonable funding available. The only other sports that the country has done well in (relatively) are Tennis, Badminton, Snooker…..largely because of individual efforts made at a global stage. The government’s had very little to do with these sports.

The organization of sports has of course come to the centerstage with the CWG fiasco. Facilities were of poor quality; the execution was delayed and mishandled. The only real winner in this aspect was the corruption!

Now let’s turn our attention to cricket. Without doubt, India has done exceptionally well in cricket – especially in the last few years. We won the ODI world cup earlier this year and we have won the T20 competition in the past. Till very recently, we were ranked #1 in the Test league as well. The sports infrastructure has grown tremendously – Indian facilities are at par with or better than facilities available worldwide. India has ultimate suzerainty in the world of cricket – its word, the final word. The world’s business of cricket is funded by monies put in by Indian sponsors. No wonder then that the recent matches in the West Indies were played not to suit the convenience of local audiences but those of Indian prime time audiences! Of course, the IPL is India’s absolute pride. It’s the biggest cricket tournament anywhere in the world. Its popularity arguably as high as the EPL’s.

By and large, cricket has been well managed in India. Yes, there have been the routine scandals around selection of players; about tax problems; about internal politics; and more recently, around the conduct of the IPL. But, lets be fair – cricket has been a well managed game in India.

Even so, I feel BCCI should be brought under the purview of the new Bill. The obvious reasons – already stated in the media – are that the BCCI avails of many financial concessions from the government. Be it cheap land to build stadiums; or tax reliefs; or many other exemptions. And of course, the fact that BCCI has usurped for itself the right to represent the country officially at the ICC and the world stage must bring it under some degree of supervision. What has accentuated matters of course is the presence of powerful politicians in the administration of sports. Whether it is Sharad Pawar, CP Joshi or Vilasrao Deshmukh from the Congress, or Arun Jaitley from the BJP, politicians love cricket. And wherever there are politicians, there is bound to be politics!

But apart from these obvious reasons, here’s something else. Remember ICL? Indian Cricket League launched by the Zee group; headed by none other than the legendary Kapil Dev. I don’t care whether ICL succeeded or not. But what I do care about – and feel offended by – is the highhanded and overt manner in which the BCCI went all out to kill the ICL. BCCI had the ultimate trump card – they would deny any cricketer playing in the ICL the right to play for India. Even if the ICL unearthed good cricketers, they would not be given a chance to play for India. Their exclusive arrangement with the ICC ensured that it was only BCCI that could choose the team that represented India. Since when has it become the right of a private club (as BCCI likes to call itself) to become the sole representative of a sovereign nation? BCCI’s high handedness is seen in everything it does. Player selection is a process that leaves many baffled. Some players are given multiple chances; many others just fall by the wayside. Commentator contracts are mired in controversy too.

BCCI has to make up its mind. Is it a private body or does it represent the country. The two cannot go hand in hand. If it is a private body organizing private cricket tournaments, that’s fine. It then cannot come under the new sports bill. But if it wants to retain the right to represent India, it has to come under some degree of supervision. I am not at all suggesting that it must be controlled by the government. If there are any such clauses, they must be debated and replaced. Given the importance of cricket and the pride that Indians have about their performance in this sport, it is important to have some degree of regulation…..Of course the BCCI should come under the RTI if it chooses to represent India. Ultimately, BCCI is all about the reputation of the country and transparency is a must.

I cannot even understand why anyone should object to the other clauses in the Bill. Sports administrators must give up their office at the age of 70. Apparently, this is the norm worldwide. No one should hold the President’s office for more than three terms of four years each. It was Maken’s point that had this practice been followed, maybe the CWG games fiasco could have been avoided (I debate this point…..corruption had nothing to do with Kalmadi per se. The entire system of sports administration is corrupt at present. Anyone who headed IOA would have perhaps done the same thing. For cleaning up corruption in sports bodies, we need to remove the root causes).

Unfortunately, as often happens in our country, the controversies around the Bill have taken the attention away from the main point. Does the Bill have any concrete proposals to actually improve the sporting environment in the country? What does it propose in terms of building infrastructure for all sports? How does it plan to increase financial support for the games? How does it plan to take the culture of sports down to the schools and colleges from where talent can emerge? Unfortunately, these issues are unimportant as far as our MPs are concerned. What they are concerned with is protecting their own turfs in the business of sports.

The real truth is that we need an aggressive strategy to develop sports in the country. If the Bill does that, it should be welcomed. It’s not so much about control. It’s about taking charge of the situation and setting goals for the future. It’s about having the right people to run the sports bodies. It’s about professionalizing and de-politicizing the sports federations. That’s how Maken’s efforts must be looked at. Of course, the Bill needs more debate, but not on whether cricket should be included or excluded……but on what it has in store for developing all the sports in the country.

No comments:

Post a Comment