With Usha-led panel in place, IOA averts crisis but sports frat keeps fingers crossed

By Shrikant Bhagvatula

Mumbai, Jan 29 (IANS): In December 2012, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) from all Olympic-related activities for misgovernance, internal squabbling and electing people facing criminal charges and court cases over corruption charges as administrators.

After some of its officials were arrested in connection with the Commonwealth Games scam, the IOA plunged into internal conflict and when elections were finally conducted in December 2012, Abhay Singh Chautala and Lalit Kumar Bhanot were elected as president and secretary general respectively.

As both of them faced court cases and charges of alleged corruption, the IOC considered their election as a violation of the Olympic Charter and suspended the National Olympic Committee of India (NOC) from all Olympics-related activities.

This meant that India could not organise any international competition in the country and its sportspersons were not allowed to participate in international events under the national flag. Accordingly, the Indian representatives at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia participated under the IOC flag.

The IOA's suspension was eventually revoked on February 11, 2014, after representatives from the Indian government and sports bodies reached an agreement with IOC officials. Elections were held again and a new executive body was elected.

The winds of normalcy blew in the IOA only for a few years as the organisation was born in 1927 and has since then been the personal fiefdom of powerful government officials, businessmen and resourceful politicians with no age cap or limitations on tenure. There was no transparency in its functioning and athletes and women had next to negligible representation.

However, within 10 years, it was a feeling of deja-vu for the Indian fans as the IOA plunged into another crisis and faced another suspension. The IOA was warned by the IOC of suspension for third-party interference in governance after a Delhi High Court bench ordered the removal of its then president Dr Narinder Dhruv Batra for getting elected based on a post in Hockey India that was subsequently declared invalid by the court.

Batra, who had ruled Hockey India for over a decade before the National Sports Code kicked in, had got himself installed as a "Life Member" of Hockey India, a post declared illegal by the court.

The IOC refused to recognise any interim president and warned that IOA will be suspended again if the court cases were not resolved and third-party interference removed and elections conducted as per the new Constitution before December 2022. The elections were already postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Besides warning the IOA, the IOC also postponed the prestigious IOC Session, scheduled to be held in May 2023 in Mumbai, to September/October 2023 and there was a real threat of India losing the right to host the IOC session in case the crisis was not resolved by the deadline set by the IOC.

Under threat from the IOC and insistent prodding by the Supreme Court, the Indian Olympic Association re-drafted its Constitution to bring in long-awaited reforms. And despite stiff resistance from certain quarters, the draft Constitution was finally approved and adopted at a Special General Meeting (SGM) in November 2022.

The new Constitution introduced reforms like taking away voting rights from the state Olympic associations and giving them to the National Sports Federations, introducing age and tenure cap for the executive board members as per the National Sports Code, limiting the total strength of the executive committee and introducing two nominated posts for representatives of the Athletes Commission.

The post of the secretary general was removed and the post of a professional Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was introduced. The revised Constitution also made way for the proper representation of athletes and women.

Under the new Constitution, the IOA conducted elections and legendary athlete PT Usha was elected as President and Kalyan Choubey as interim CEO.

The IOC and OCA accepted the outcome of the IOA election and the threat of suspension was finally revoked as elections were conducted within the deadline and the court cases resolved.

Though some of the rules have been changed, it will take a few years to see how many of these remain effective and whether IOA will not fall back to its old ways thanks to interference by the powerful politicians and old satraps.

It has to be seen whether PT Usha as IOA president manages to bring in more reforms and introduce transparent governance.

The IOA executive committee headed by Usha currently has sportspersons like wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, boxing legend MC Mary Kom, table tennis star Achanta Sharath Kamal besides AIFF president Kalyan Choubey as members.

The executive committee in its first meeting decided to work for athletes' welfare and promote women's sports in the country.

Its moves are being closely watched by the IOC and the courts in the country. Any misstep could again plunge the top sports association in the country into another crisis as the old guard is still active.



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Title: With Usha-led panel in place, IOA averts crisis but sports frat keeps fingers crossed

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