An old proverb says, ‘It’s not how many times you fall down that counts, but how many times you get up.’ When a nation is down in the dumps, few things cheer like sports. But the Indian national anthem may not be played at Rio in 2016. Our sportsmen are unlikely to take the Olympic parade under the tricolour along with the athletes of other nations, thanks to corrupt politicians and their factotums. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has asked the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to drop all chargesheeted members by October 31 if India is to be allowed to compete in the 2016 Olympics. It wants fresh elections in the IOA. But the organisation has refused to be a sport. Being an independent body, it can afford to because the government of India is helpless to intervene, even if it is to rescue national prestige.
Whether it is cricket or any other sport, where there is money there is power, which in turn breeds corruption. There is glamour in sports too; innumerable junkets and photo-ops feed the vanity of politicians. Leaders like Pawar, Jaitley, Shukla, VK Malhotra, Tytler, Stokes, the Chautalas, Singh Deos, Badals and Singhs are more adept at running sports bodies than marathons. The BCCI and IPL are sordid examples of politics and big business meddling in sport. Two years ago, corruption charges in the Commonwealth Games sent IOA’s current secretary-general Lalit Bhanot to Tihar jail, to keep his discredited boss Suresh Kalmadi company. Two years later, he was back as the chief of India’s most prestigious sports body. Bhanot had famously remarked on the BBC footage of the horrifying sanitary conditions in the newly built Commonwealth Games Village: “Everyone has different standards of cleanliness. The Westerners have different standards, we have different standards.” It is obvious that Bhanot and his puppets in the IOA have their own ethical standards of cleanliness. The timing is ironic, that the association should protect tainted officials at a time politicians are conspiring to beat the Supreme Court’s directive to keep criminals out of elections.
India participated in the Olympic Games for the first time as part of the British Empire; Norman Pritchard, an Englishman born in Calcutta, won two silver medals. In 2012, wrestler Sushil Kumar became the first Indian to match Pritchard’s record of winning multiple individual Olympic medals. The 2012 Summer Olympics was the best-ever for the country: 83 participants bagged six medals. It is a pathetic haul by international standards in the face of America’s 104 medals, China’s 88 and the UK’s 65. But on the barren landscape of Indian sport, pockmarked by the shenanigans politicians and their cronies, our sportsmen have been struggling against all odds—poor sports facilities, corrupt coaches, paltry funds and obsolete training methods. With a few exceptions, none of them come from wealthy urban backgrounds. Sachin Tendulkar and PT Usha learned their game in the heat and dust of India’s backstreets and villages. At the 1948 London Olympics, the Indian football team under captain Rahim Saab reached the quarterfinals, losing to France 1-2, after two penalty kicks went awry because they were playing barefoot in the extreme cold. The courage to play shoeless in such conditions won them an invitation to the Buckingham Palace by an admiring King George IV. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, the Indian team once again played barefooted in the biting cold and lost to Yugoslavia.
Let not Bhanot and his nefarious ilk be allowed to humiliate the legacy of Indian sport that has survived against punishing odds. It has been sullied enough. Asking them to grow a conscience is like asking a crocodile for a cucumber sandwich. A parallel Indian Olympic body, governed by eminent sportpersons and recognised by the IOC should be created, making the IOA illegitimate. In its charter, politicians and the government should be banned from membership. Keep politicians out of sports. Sportspersons getting into politics, well, that is another story.