IOA internal squabble over Olympics preparation

The 15-member EC, instead of working for the benefit of the athletes, are worried about themselves. What seems more embarrassing is that most members are Olympians or Olympic medallists.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only. (Photo | Olympic.ind)

CHENNAI: With just over three months left for the Olympics, the internal fight within the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is refusing to die. So much so that the acrimony within the executive committee members has apparently led to a breakdown of trust. The 15-member EC, instead of working for the benefit of the athletes, are worried about themselves. What seems more embarrassing is that most members are Olympians or Olympic medallists.

After an EC meeting was apparently called off by the IOA president, PT Usha, later last week, a letter has been in circulation forbidding ‘unauthorised persons’ to enter the premises of the IOA Bhavan in New Delhi. It is learnt that it has been pasted on the elevators and walls as well and has been signed by nine members including senior vice president Ajay Patel, vice presidents Rajlakshmi Singh Deo and Gagan Narang, treasurer Sahdev Yadav and other members Dola Banerjee, Harpal Singh, Yogeshwar Dutt, Amitabh Sharma and Bhupinder Singh Bajwa.

The house has been divided ever since the appointment of the Chief Executive Officer in January. This was mandated after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had warned multiple times of dire consequences if a CEO was not appointed. The EC (nine out of the 15 as it seems by the signatures on the recent notification), had been vocal against the appointment of the CEO, Raghuram Iyer.

The main point of discontent had been the salary of the CEO was about Rs 20 lakh a month excluding other benefits. Interestingly, in January, there were about 12 signatories against the appointment.

Things got complicated because the CEO appointment had been endorsed by the IOC and there is no provision in the new constitution to terminate his appointment. Since all payments need finance committee’s nod and needs to be signed by the treasurer (along with the IOA president) payments have not been made, including CEO's salary. The EC also claimed that they had terminated Usha’s executive assistant Ajay Narang as well.

However, Usha’s office has confirmed that the CEO and the executive assistant continue to work. They apparently are coordinating with sports ministry, Sports Authority of India (SAI), the IOC and the Paris Olympic Games Organising committee as well so that athletes don’t face any problems. Usha had earlier said that she had confidence in the CEO and would continue to work for the IOA.

Dilemma of signatory

What seems more baffling is that the IOA are yet to hold their Annual General Meeting (a meeting in December never took place and the financial year is also over). That means no auditing and passing of accounts. With Olympics just over three months away, the EC members, instead of concentrating on athletes’ welfare, are busy fighting. One must also keep in mind that the funding too will be affected because the Finance Committee is headed by Ajay Patel and the treasurer needs to sign the cheques. The signatory was supposed to be changed to CEO during the last week's meeting but did not happen because of opposition.

The IOA constitution says: “Accounts shall be maintained in such Scheduled or Nationalized Bank or Banks, as may be approved by the Executive Council in the name of the Association and shall be operated by the CEO in coordination and consultation with the President and Treasurer.. In the absence of the availability of CEO for any reason, the account shall be jointly operated by the Treasurer and the President.” With more and more expenses to be incurred ahead of the Games for travelling, kitting and other logistical support, it needs to be seen how the IOA chief surmounts those hurdles.

Lack of experience

The constitution was re-drafted in 2022 to keep athletes’ interest first. But the way things are panning out in the IOA, it seems its members first. This also brings into focus one more provision that the new constitution removed and some members including sports lawyers suggested – restrictive clause that allowed first-time sports administrators to run a big organisation like the IOA. Lack of experience is evident among the office-bearers (top to bottom).

The constitution was changed to accommodate more athletes and first-time sports administrators but the way IOA is functioning shows it has not worked. It is well chronicled that experience and youth should go hand in hand. Just to digress, most constitution and newly-formed National Sports Federations (NSFs), especially in the last two-three years, seemed to lack unity and cohesiveness. Whosoever had thought the new constitution would lead to an Utopian sports administration must have gone horribly wrong, for the time being at least.

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