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At a Tricky Crossroad

As India gained a firmer footing over the decades, so did Indian sports. Not that commercial inflow into sports increased rapidly (please, let’s ignore the elephant in the room – cricket – for now), but media attention certainly did

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Globally, the officialdom of sports forms a wide spectrum.  In developed countries like the USA sports is managed by the US Olympic Committee along with all the National Sport Federations (NSF), with close to zero involvement of the government. In India, as an example of developing nations, the standard sporting officialdom of  the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and NSFs have the heavy, additional presence of government bodies – a whole Ministry of Sports as a matter of fact – as well as the far-reaching Sports Authority of India.  The latter end of the spectrum creates some rather interesting relationships.  

While the IOA can remain reasonably independent, largely due to international funding through the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the NSFs are pretty heavily sandwiched between their necessary independence and their desperate dependence on the government. Though a handful of  NSFs were formally in place before 1947, it was only after India became a republic that the rest of sports got organised under an umbrella, the NSF, along with all their down-the- line constituents.  

I have no doubt that a sports ministry was created by the government with the primary intention of assisting the NSFs to negotiate the difficult early days of organising their sports in this large, diverse country. The primary legitimacy of an NSF comes from its official accreditation to the supreme international body.  But in India’s case, the legitimacy of the NSFs also became dependent on accreditation with the Sports Ministry.  Why?  Because there is no free lunch.  

Since the ministry continues to provide the NSFs with a basic level of subsistence funding, it rightfully demands this pound of flesh.  However, since the financial assistance was and remains – despite the increases – minimal, the NSFs had virtually no choice but to become long-term fiefdoms of ‘persons with influence’.  The leadership of virtually all NSFs, as well as associations down the line, was taken over by persons who had wealth, power, or both.  It was in the natural order of things.

  All sporting bodies need a much higher level of funding than that provided by the government.  Influential leaders of  bodies were able to pull in the rest of  the funds required for organising all the events on the sporting calendar.  Now, since the NSF positions were all honorary, the pay back to these leaders and their lieutenants was the traditional visibility and travel associated with participation in the major events.  Again, a necessary pound of flesh.  So far so good.  Not too many were complaining, as the world of Indian sports was moving on a very slow trajectory.  

As India gained a firmer footing over the decades, so did Indian sports.  Not that commercial inflow into sports increased rapidly (please, let’s ignore the elephant in the room – cricket – for now), but media attention certainly did. And with this change, came a rash of protestations and criticism about how sports was being run by our NSFs.  They were partly justified, but also immature and without deeper understanding of  how the wheels of the system work.  As a consequence, most NSFs are crippled, besieged with innumerable legal cases. This aggressive activism led to the government reacting by drafting and attempting to make mandatory a National Sports Code.  Nothing wrong with trying to improve the fundamentals of sports’ officialdom, but the inherent difficulties in forcing sweeping changes has led to long standoffs with several NSFs.  

Next step? Court appointed personnel to run NSFs. Indian sports now sits, befuddled, in the middle of another tricky crossroad.  More on this in my next piece.  But I’ll finish with a question.  Were the court appointed caretakers of cricket successful in implementing a major administrative makeover, or has cricket survived a slap on the wrist and returned to its regular ways?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Charu Sharma

The author is commentator and quiz master

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