CHENNAI: The non-compliance with the sports code by the National Sports Federations (NSFs) has led the Delhi High Court to direct the sports ministry to withdraw monetary grants and serve a notice of suspension to all errant federations. If not resolved early, things may get complicated not just for the NSFs but also for the sports ministry and the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
According to a ministry affidavit, 46 of these federations were granted recognition until May 2022. But senior advocate and petitioner, Rahul Mehra, said all NSFs violate the sports code in one form or the other. NSFs are to be blamed for not following sports code but as indicated by the HC, even the ministry is responsible for not taking action against the errant federations. The Ministry's claim that six federations including the Equestrian Federation of India, Indian Golf Union, Rowing Federation and Yachting Association of India should be granted recognition because of their peculiar nature too has been struck down.
The court pulled up the ministry for granting recognition without properly evaluating the NSFs' code compliance.
"There can be no latitude apropos expending monies on entities who do not qualify for it in law," the court had said on Thursday. "In terms of the aforesaid affidavit, recognition of the non-compliant NSFs should have ceased a long time ago. There is no scope for any further extensions. For some reason, the respondent (sports ministry) has not ensured compliance of the previous orders. Let an Officer of the rank of Joint Secretary be present in court on the next date to assist in the matter."
The court felt there was no clarity as to which NSFs are following sports code and the ones that are not. "Evidently there is no clarity or conformation as to which of the NSFs are fully complied with the sports code. Therefore, in view of the previous orders dated 26.05.2022, 02.06.2022, it would be only logical, prudent, legal and just that the government monies be not expended on entities whose status in law is yet to be determined. Accordingly, no more monies will be expended nor any assistance be extended to any NSFs, till the next date (July 20)." The court felt the entire exercise of compliance can be completed within one month.
The court has directed the SAI to take care of training and competition of the athletes until the NSFs put their house in order. But things may get complicated. Since it's a court ruling, NSFs might get the benefit of doubt from international federations (IFs) but there could be a possibility that they could consider this as an infringement on NSFs' autonomy. And there will be teething issues.
What are the consequences of suspension/withdrawal of recognition? According to the sports code, "Upon withdrawal of recognition the NSF will cease to exercise the functions of the NSF for the concerned sport discipline. It shall forego the right to regulate and control the sport in India and select the national teams and represent India in international sports events and forums. It will also become ineligible to use India in its name or receive any benefit or concession meant for an NSF as detailed in clause 3.6 of the National Sports Development Code 2011."
Challenges during suspension
Interestingly, the NSFs get funding through various schemes of the SAI and not directly from the ministry. They are non-profit bodies and majority of the funding under assistance to NSFs is for training and competitions. And the amount is either given directly to the SAI centres or where athletes train in India or even at times abroad. The athletes also get direct support through various schemes like the Target Olympics Podium (TOP) Scheme. Even expenses incurred for national and foreign coaches in national camps or attached with teams are through Annual Calendar for Training and Competition (ACTC) and are under assistance to NSFs. Other expenses of elite athletes are taken care of by the TOP Scheme funded by SAI. Besides, there are other schemes under Special Area Games and Khelo India where the funding goes directly to the academies where these selected athletes train.
While conducting national and international events, the funding goes to the NSFs. Without this the NSFs would struggle to host events. According to the February 2022, notification, high priority and Indian traditional sports get Rs 51 lakh (Rs 17 lakh each for senior, junior and sub-junior nationals). Other sports get Rs 30 lakh.
The NSFs also get some funds from the government when athletes compete abroad. Sometimes entry fees, food and lodging and daily allowances are given to the NSFs for distribution. Most of the time, part funding is done and the rest of the money is reimbursed after submission of bills. There have been occasions in the past when NSFs even had to take loans to send athletes abroad and repay after reimbursements are done.
Sending entries of a handful of suspended federations is fine. But sending so many could be complicated. The selection process itself will be difficult because most of the federations have set selection criteria and the process has already begun, especially for the 2022 Commonwealth Games from July 28 to August 8. If NSFs are suspended then what about the officials who would accompany the athletes for CWG? The lists have already been submitted for accreditation. Hopefully, by the next date of hearing on July 20, the court and the ministry will find some solution.
Sending athletes for international competitions too can get complicated. In any case, the International Federations have not withdrawn their recognition. All entries are sent by the NSFs and not SAI. There could be occasions when IFs might object to entries sent by the ministry because it could be viewed as government interference. It has happened earlier and can happen again. We have already seen confusion reign in taekwondo.
Like some federation officials have pointed out earlier and even now, who are the officials and coaches accompanying the athletes during international competitions? There have been instances when SAI officials without much experience have been sent. With so many federations suspended, SAI might be compelled to send officials with little experience.
Anyway, the Committee of Administrators (CoA) is not an answer as well. Take for example the case of Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI). A well-run organisation is facing some torrid times. From selection controversies where top players have been overlooked to arbitrary notices to players, things are definitely not what it should be. Players are even approaching the court on selection matters. The Archery Association of India’s (AAI) long suspension also showed how CoA is not the right answer all the time.
Many would have now realised, a vast majority of NSF officials work on pro bono basis. Payments to chairmen and members of COAs will add to the burden of the NSFs, unless the COAs take upon themselves the challenge of raising resources for the sports they are entrusted with the task of administering.
Though the court has given one month's time to fix the errant federations, it's easier said than done. Changes cannot be brought overnight. For bringing amendments to the constitution or electing/selecting members to the house requires time. Special General meetings usually have a 15-day notice period while general body meeting notice usually requires one month's time. It needs to be seen how NSFs and the ministry end this stalemate.