The O.P. Jaisha Incident Shows Why India Needs to Overhaul Its Sports Governance System

Any Olympic glory to the country has come only because of individual, rather than organisational, efforts. This needs to be remedied.

An Olympic carnival at New Delhi's Central Park. Credit: PTI

An Olympic carnival at New Delhi’s Central Park. Credit: PTI

Note: We are republishing this article in light of the O.P. Jaisha incident, where the Indian marathon runner collapsed after a race at the Olympics because she was not provided water or energy drinks by Indian officials. “It was very hot there. The competition was at 9 am, I ran in scorching heat. There was no water for us, neither recovery drinks nor food. Only once in 8kms did we get water (from the Rio organisers) which did not help at all. All the countries had their stalls at every 2kms but our country’s stall was empty,” Jaisha has said. 

Issues related to sports management in India come to the fore only when there is an international sports event. The expectations of a billion people are repeatedly belied by the number of medals won.

The last few Olympics have shown that even when medals are won, it is because of individual rather than organisational effort. The sports federation, however, is always eager to take the credit. But the reality is that in the Olympics, India has been able to win medals only in individual sports like shooting, wrestling and badminton, but not in team games.

The performance of Indians in the Rio Olympics shows that there is lot of talent. Lalita Babar came in within the top ten in the women’s 3,000 metre steeplechase. Dattu Baban Bhokanal was 13th in the men’s scull rowing event.

But are we really able to tap talent and groom it to win medals?

The answer is no at the organisational level but yes at the individual level.

It is possible. Pullella Gopichand has shown through his academy that medals can be won in badminton. But this has been at the cost of a huge sacrifice on his part. It also shows how the badminton federation has failed.

The story of failure spreads across all the sports federations in India. Failures have been attributed to allegations of fiefdom, nepotism, financial irregularities and the lack of accountability.

There is a question that needs to be asked here: Why do sports federations have hardly any sportspersons in their managing bodies? These federations are dominated by people who may have never played a sport in their lives.

Why don’t former sportspersons come forward to manage their own sports? The mismanagement, nepotism and corruption in sports federations during selections, training and competitions dissuades them.

The hands-off approach of sportspersons has left the arena open for politicians, and other non-sportspersons, to continue the mismanagement of sports. Sports provides a great publicity platform for politicians, leading to a growing trend in our country to have as many politicians as possible managing the Indian sports federations. Some of these politicians hold as many as five to six positions in various disciplines.

Systemic problem

The current model of sports management includes the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Indian Olympic Association, state Olympic associations and the National Sports Federation. The federation is directly affiliated to the counterpart international federation.

The main role of ministry and the SAI is to ensure sports infrastructure and financial assistance to sports federations. Sports federations conduct sporting activities in the country.

But other than just conducting activities, the main job of sports federations is to identify talent and groom them for international events. They have definitely failed in this regard, mainly because there is no accountability built into the system. The federations have unlimited discretionary powers, opaque decision making processes and financial mismanagement.

Possible solution

If we want to see tangible results, there is a need to revisit our current model of sports governance and bring about serious systemic changes. India could look to the Australian sports model for inspiration.

The ministry of sports could consider constituting an independent sports regulator. The regulator could work on the lines of similar bodies in other fields, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, for instance. The SAI and the Indian Olympics Association would then report to the regulator, as would non-Olympic sports federations like BCCI.

The authority will be expected to prepare a strategic plan in consultation with Olympic authority and its affiliated federations. The authority will generate funds and allocate them to each federation with clear targets. This will ensure checks and balances, and a substantial increase in accountability.

To further increase the accountability of sporting bodies, they should declare annual audited financial sheets on their respective websites. The government should ensure a comptroller and auditor general audit of the relevant body after every major international event, declaring rewards or further appraisals based on fund utilisation, performance in the event and a roadmap till the next event.

This would entail well-defined sports legislation. Rights and duties of federations need to be clearly outlined in the legislation, also bringing federations under the Right to Information Act. Qualifications needed for the selection of members to governing bodies of federations will be defined.

Only when we have a proper and accountable system in place will sportspersons like Dipa Karmakar not have to practice gymnastics on a makeshift apparatus from a pile of crash mats and discarded parts of a second-hand scooter.

Ashish Joshi is a civil servant