Widespread pressure to change Indian sports top

The IOC has suspended the Indian Olympic Association and does not recognize recent election. Photo: IOC headquarter (c) Rebecca Bolwitt/Flickr


By Stine Alvad
The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is under pressure from both the IOC, the Indian government and Indian athletes after the association held their presidential elections after several warnings from the IOC who ultimately handed out a suspension the day before election day.

Despite an IOC suspension of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) over government interference and failure to comply with the Olympic Charter, IOA last week elected Abhay Chautala unopposed as the new president.

Chautala is replacing Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who was instated in 2011 after then president Suresh Kalmadi was fired and imprisoned for 10 months because of corruption charges in relation to the 2012 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi (CWG), which he also presided.

Although the IOC had explicitly warned the Indians against running tainted officials for office, the IOA also elected former CWG secretary general Lalit Bhanot as the IOA secretary general. Bhanot was charged and served time in jail for implication in the same corruption scam as former president Kalmadi.

Due to the suspension, the IOC does not recognise the election, said IOC’s Pere Miro, in charge of national Olympic committee relations.

"This is because this is part of a full problem. The election process has been tarnished since the origin. Many different interferences, many governmental rules and their own bad interpretation of IOA statutes," Miro said according to Reuters.

The suspension was further explained in a press release from the IOC after the IOC Executive Committee meeting on 4 December:

"The Executive Board decided to suspend the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) due to its failure to comply to the Olympic charter and its statute, fail to inform the IOC in a timely manner, and as a protective measure to government interference in the election process," said the IOC.

According to the Indian minister of Sport, Jitendra Singh, the Indian government has also been trying to get the IOA to adhere to regulations and to follow the Indian national sports code but with no luck.

“The Indian Olympic Association is to blame for the current crisis. We told the IOA many times to amend its constitution and be compliant with the international rules,” Singh explained.

Acting IOA president Malhotra complained the situation, arguing that the association was caught between two sides:

"... the IOC is complaining of government interference, while court and government want us to go by the code. We were caught in the crossfire. We will try and find some reconciliation so that our athletes don't suffer," he said to Reuters.

National sports code or Olympic Charter
According to New Delhi Television (NDTV) sports, the Indian sports code does not differ much from the Olympic charter. Both have a tenure limit of max. 12 years and an age cap of 70.

It is hinted by different commentators that the IOA’s failure to comply with either code is partly due to the fact that many of the officials in the Indian sports organisations have held their posts for more than the allowed 12 years and several sports officials have long passed the age limit of 70 years.

One example is replaced IOA president Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who has just turned 81 and has held the post as president of the Indian Archery Association (AAI) since 1973. The AAI was this week de-recognised by the Indian government for re-electing Malhotra in November in discordance with the sports code’s age limit.

“Incorporating the sports code, which is a mirror image of the IOC charter in the IOA constitution, could have saved India from suspension, but can there ever be a majority decision to usher in these changes?”, an article by NDTV asks.

'Rehabilitating the tainted'
The newly elected IOA president Abhay Chautula who stood unopposed after IOC member Randhir Singh withdrew from the election before the IOC suspension, also seems to have a questionable record.

Chautala comes from a post as president of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF), a post which was taken over by his brother-in-law, while Chautala maintained a seat as chairman a long with his new IOA presidential post, writes NDTV.

The International Boxing Federation (AIBA) has now provisionally suspended the IABF.

“This provisional suspension is also due to the fact that AIBA had learned about possible manipulation of the recent IABF's election. AIBA will now investigate this election and especially a potential political link between IOA President, as former Chairman of the IABF, and the IABF election,” says a statement on the AIBA website dated 6 December.

According to a comment in the new Indian Express by journalist Kamlendra Kanwar under the headline: ‘Rehabilitation of the tainted’, Chautala is furthermore under investigation by the federal police and is currently facing a trial along with his brother for disproportionate assets. Kanwar sees Chautala’s election as well as Kalmadi’s re-entering into the Indian parliamentary committee as a larger process by Indian officials to re-enter tainted personages into parliamentary posts.

Blessing in disguise
For some observers the suspension might turn out for the better. The only ones so far directly affected by this suspension are the Indian athletes, who, during the suspension, are only allowed to participate in international events under the IOC flag.

"If our Olympic association is banned, it could be a blessing in disguise," wrote the rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, India’s first individual Olympic gold medallist in a column in the Hindustan Times.

“With no multi-sport event in 2013, Indian athletes could afford a moratorium for about three to six months provided we all stand united and are empowered to go change the present system. Athletes have been suppressed for far too long and it's time we attain freedom,” his comment continues.

Other athletes are also hoping for this to be the first step to a cleaner sport and they are planning to look to the IOC for help.

“We are seeking the views of the international committee for drawing up a roadmap to enable sportspersons to play a major role in different sporting bodies in the country,” said Zafar Iqbal, former National hockey captain.

"Only a drastic step like this could have shaken the ailing system. It's time for taking the corrective measures. Maybe you won't see overnight changes but I expect some positive developments in the coming months," said former double trap shooter Moraad Ali Khan according to Hindustan Times.

The athletes’ standpoints are shared by Clean Sports India, a movement for corruption-free sport in the country.

"It is a historic opportunity for the country to discuss debate and reform the sporting structures of India. It's time for sportsperson to come and set the house in order," said a spokesperson from Clean sports India to the Economic Times.

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