Sports minister-IOA meeting symbolic but challenges remain

The meeting might send a signal to all dissident members of the governing body of Olympics in India, but it may not broker peace unless something drastic happens
Union Minister for Sports Mansukh Mandaviya
Union Minister for Sports Mansukh Mandaviya (File Photo | PTI)

CHENNAI: This is rare. If senior sports administrators are to be believed, it could be one of the first instances of a sports minister visiting the India Olympic Association (IOA) office after taking charge.

On Thursday, Mansukh Mandaviya, the newly-appointed Union Minister for Sports, went to meet IOA president PT Usha at the Olympic Bhawan in New Delhi. This could also be seen as a symbolic gesture when the IOA chief and most EC members are at loggerheads.

The IOA has been in turmoil, especially after the appointment of Raghuram Iyer, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), in January this year. Majority of the EC members had objected to this and had revolted against Usha. No EC meeting has taken place; even the general body meeting is yet to happen in 2024.

The sports minister-IOA president meeting might send a signal to all dissident members, but it may not broker peace unless something drastic happens. It is a known fact that most EC members are not aligned with the IOA president and they would be assessing the situation closely. One must keep in mind that the IOA is an autonomous body and third party interference may not go down well with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The appointment of Mandaviya, who hails from Gujarat, also indicates that the government would want the 2036 Olympic bid with Ahmedabad as the main venue. The bidding process has already started and more interactions will be in the pipeline, especially during the Paris Olympics in July-August. But one thing is for sure.

For a strong Olympic bid, a strong IOA is needed, not a fractured one. This was reiterated by the IOC as well during various conversations. It is up to the IOA president and the EC to rebuild the organisation and uphold the sanctity befitting its stature.

The IOA had posted on its X handle that besides taking stock of the Olympic preparation, the sports minister and the body discussed ways to spread awareness about the Olympic movement. Before that, the IOA must get its product, the National Games back on track.
Confidence building in NSFs
But the challenges ahead of the sports minister will not be limited to the IOA. There has been a breakdown of trust between the National Sports Federations, sports ministry and SAI. In fact, there have been instances when elections of certain federations were dragged to court. The SAI had apparently stopped funding most NSFs directly because of a Delhi High Court order of September 2023, which made it mandatory for all NSFs to ensure strict compliance of the Sports Code.

The NSFs are in a precarious position too. Any election can be challenged in the court because of sports code violation. “It is further made clear that in respect of all future elections, the respondent, Union of India, shall ensure strict compliance of the judgement delivered in W.P.(C) No. 195/2010 dated 16.08.2022,” said the September order.

Going by various Delhi HC orders in the last three years (since All India Football Federation and IOA cases), almost all NSFs’ recognition and existence seem to be threatened. The biggest challenge is in implementing the code at the district level, which NSFs feel is apparently due to lack of competent administrators.

Another issue that has been plaguing the NSF right now is the term and tenure clause. Earlier this was limited to office bearers – in IOA, there were three (president, secretary and treasurer) but now it has been extended to all EC members. There have been issues during elections of NSFs recently.

There are about six to eight federations whose matters went to the court in the last six months or elections stayed, like in the cases of Volleyball Federation of India and the Rowing Federation of India. Two years on, the Judo Federation of India is still run by an administrator. There is no clarity on the kabaddi federation, either. If Sports Code issues are not addressed, expect more mess in NSFs, especially when there is an election round the corner.

It needs to be seen how the minister tackles these issues. Mandaviya’s crisis management skills were tested when he took charge of Health during the Delta wave in 2021. All eyes will be on him as he tries to find a lasting solution in sports and sports administration too.

Chef de mission not named
With just about 40 days to go, the IOA is yet to name the chef de mission for the Paris Olympics. London Games medallist MC Mary Kom decided to step down as chef de mission in mid April. Two months on, a new chef de mission is yet to be named. The athletes are expected to leave in batches next month.

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