India can host sporting events like the Indian Premier League (IPL), Indian Super League (ISL) or Pro-kabaddi league this year but sans spectators. Minister of state for sports and youth affairs Kiren Rijiju on Thursday during a webinar with The New Indian Express expressed the possibility of the country hosting sporting events despite the difficult times due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The minister was in conversation with TNIE editorial director Prabhu Chawla and senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai. "As of now, because of the situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our priority is health and safety of the players and the citizens. As and when the situation becomes normal, we would like to see sporting events back on the ground. Right now...sporting events can be held in this situation without spectators. We have already permitted sports activities across stadia and complexes," the minister said.
Speaking exclusively on the possibility of the IPL, ISL and Pro-Kabaddi League this year, Rijiju reiterated, "We can have sporting activities this year but minus spectators."
Expressing his views on the recent infighting in the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) between two of its prominent office-bearers — president Narinder Batra and secretary-general Rajeev Mehta — the minister asserted difference of opinion should not impact sports and the sportspersons in a negative way.
"The national sports federations and the IOA are elected bodies and there are bound to be groupism and difference of opinion among various groups. These are part of the democratic process but having said that, my advice to the IOA and the NSFs is that whatever differences you have, don't let it have any negative impact on sports and sportspersons. We are here for sports and promotion of the game. Our individual interest should not override the interest of sports and sportspersons."
He, though, made it specific that he doesn't have any problem with any NSF or IOA. The sports minister, however, sounded perturbed with the way his endeavour of implementing a national sports code was stalled by a certain section of sports administrators. "I was very eager to have a new sports code but some of them had gone to the court and stalled it by obtaining a stay on its implementation. There are people, who don't want reforms in Indian sports," he complained.
Explaining the reforms, Rijiju said, "As and when this stay is lifted, we will come out with much broad-based and new changes in the sports code. The most important thing I am looking for is transparency and good governance in sports along with accountability. There should be no hidden agenda."
The minister, however, seems okay with politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen managing NSFs. "It's not good in democracy to single out a certain section and bar them. We have to work for the promotion of the game. It's not a question of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. It's about promotion of sports. There are many good people running the federations. There may be some black sheep but we cannot generalise."
Rijiju also said that young and developmental athletes will be back soon as the ministry cannot risk the health of these youngsters. "Elite athletes are back right now and soon the younger athletes too will be back. We have to consider their health," he said.
Lending his views on the commercialisation of sports by owning franchises in sports league, the minister said, "Earning money through sports is not wrong but not at the expense of the interest of the game. Nobody should monopolise the commercial factor of any particular sport. You have to ensure a fair chance for everybody. We should not discourage corporates but it should be done in a fair manner."
Emphasising on the need to protect the interest of local players, he said "Commercial interest has to be there but it cannot have primacy over the interest of the local players or local interest. Opportunity for local players has to be there. We need to have provisions for that. The interest of the local players must be protected."
Defending his move to invite raw talents like Kambala jockey from Karnataka for trials, Rijiju said he needs to be open to everything.