Sports and politics aren’t made for each other. But in India they make a perfect couple, united by moolah rather than mission. Last week, the Supreme Court used its most trusted and judicious pair of scissors to separate the two. After going through voluminous reports and arguments, the court made it clear that any syndicate of mutual interests and questionable conduct of players and administrators would not be allowed anymore. Though the observations concerned the ongoing shenanigans in the BCCI, they reflected the malaise of crony corruption, which has inflicted all of India’s sports bodies. For the past few months, many sports institutions and players have brought not only disrepute to the country but also exposed their preference for money over sport.
It’s not a coincidence that even after the apex court’s comments, not a single leader or party has condemned the malignancy corroding Indian sports. Of the 150 sports bodies in the country, there is not even one in which a politician or civil servant doesn’t hold an exalted position. Despite determined attempts by some sports-loving ministers, the government hasn’t been able to fix either a stipulated tenure or an age limit for office bearers to rule a sports body. Today, sports is the only viable and stable all-party coalition led by the Congress and BJP. Even regional parties like the Sharad Pawar-led NCP and Farooq Abdullah’s NC are part of this unholy alliance. Its caliphs travel in style and stay in luxury hotels, while players (except national cricketers) are made to travel cattle class or by train and spend the night in seedy hotels. Some of India’s brilliant sportspersons are humiliated by other countries, but no political leader bothers to support their cause. For example, it was left to cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar to take up the cudgels on behalf of boxer Sarita Devi who unjustly faces lifetime expulsion by the International Boxing Association. In an earlier incident, the Badminton Association of India had imposed a ban on rising badminton star Jwala Gutta because she spoke up for her team against foreign players.
Meanwhile, the cash-rich BCCI has been at war with cricketers over the issue of ignoring players’ interests. As far back as in 1989, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Arun Lal, Kiran More and Mohammad Azharuddin had agitated against the mighty bully for getting better contracts for players. But BCCI was able to neutralise them and similar others with pay hikes and monetary awards, which they deserved in the first place. This Cabal of Cricket is one of the dirtiest sports bodies in India, full of infamous and tainted operators deciding the fate of genuine players. Those who oppose its dictatorial princes are shown the door or punished severely. Because of the nexus between cricket administrators, match fixers and money lords, the image of some of the most successful players has been tarnished because they compromised with the lords of the game who refuse to vacate their glided thrones even after the expiry of their terms. The cricket mafia is the Badshah of all of India’s sports kingdoms. Controlling the game, whether it is a comparatively low-level sport like kabaddi or high-octane cricket, these paladins have ensured that a country of over 1.25 billion can’t produce even half a dozen Olympic gold medallists.
Collectively or individually, the conspiracy of the corrupt has thwarted all attempts to reform India’s sports governance. In the past two decades, sports ministers such as Uma Bharti and Ajay Maken attempted to make sports bodies transparent and accountable. Maken even drafted a bill, which sought to bring all such organisations under the RTI Act. He took it to the Cabinet twice. He got clearance from the PM and Congress High Command, but later both buckled under pressure from some Union ministers and Opposition leaders to drop the bill. It is not surprising that performing sports ministers have always been neutralised in every Cabinet reshuffle. Any minister who dared to challenge sports mafia by trying to bring it under RTI lost his or her portfolio. While all parties speak up on all sorts of policy makeovers, including economic reforms for rich corporates, they are conspicuous by their silence over changing the face of sports for the better. Narendra Modi, the country’s most powerful, effective, credible and popular PM, has spoken about his resolve to rid India of all dirt but has maintained silence on cleansing its filthiest sector—sports. Perhaps he is waiting for the iron to get hot.
The growing commercialisation of Indian sports has reached alarming proportions. Ever since IPL became cricket’s golden goose, it is not only big businessmen and Bollywood stars but also India’s rich and famous players who are bidding for teams in cricket, football, hockey and even kabaddi. Never have they bothered to improve sports facilities, give donations for creating better playgrounds or grant monetary benefits to encourage future champions. Instead they are investing millions to become part of the elite group of sports club owners. From sportsmen like Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, actors like Preity Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan and John Abraham, and corporate players like India Cements, Vijay Mallya and Anand Mahindra, all own sports teams. According to insiders, senior ministers and leaders have been mounting pressure on various corporations to own teams and make huge payoffs to their organisations. Hence, companies are willing to oblige political masters by spending big bucks on inviting international players to play for their clubs, but are unwilling to adopt any school or college team, which could supply national-level players of the future. Unfortunately, sports is fast becoming a lucrative business for stars in business, glamour and even sports itself. Unless this trend is not reversed, the nation will certainly have some rich and famous players on its It-list, but few genuine blood and sweat sportspersons who can make India proud in the international arena.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla