‘You will have to sell the IOA as a brand’

K. PICHUMANI

“We’ve succeeded in getting sponsors. For a start, we have given every State Olympic Association and National Sports Federation Rs. 3 lakh per year,” N. Ramachandran, the IOA President, tells K. Keerthivasan.

The Indian Olympic Association, at the best of times, has been a divided body with in-fighting and polemics.

N. Ramachandran, who took over as President of the IOA last February, like many of his predecessors, has had his problems with some of the member units. But he has started work in right earnest by granting Rs. 3 lakhs each to the State Olympic Associations and the National Sports Federations.

In this interview, Ramachandran, who is also the President of the World Squash Federation, speaks about his desire to sell the IOA as a brand to make it self-sufficient, on why running the IOA is different and more difficult than running a National Sports Federation, why he doesn’t agree to the National Sports Code, and why he is confident of squash figuring in the 2020 Olympics, among other things.

Excerpts:

Question: It’s been more than a year at the helm of the IOA. How has your experience been so far?

Answer: It’s a totally different type of experience from the one I am normally used to. If you are running a sports body in India or running a world body outside India, you find that by and large you are able to strike a relationship with all the stakeholders. As far as the IOA is concerned, there are very many stakeholders. And all of them have their own views. How you are able to convince a man depends on your skill and ability.

It’s a different type of environment vis-a-vis the IOA functioning. You have to take a view and a stand vis-a-vis the Government. The (Central) Government has a tendency to encroach upon the independence of the IOA. Recently, the Government of India had a meeting with all the Sports Secretaries where they said the States should have the same view as that of the Union Government in terms of age and tenure (National Sports Code).

Do you agree with the Sports Code?

The Sports Code is something we have never accepted. To go by the Sports Code just because a few lawyers or a few sportspersons have decided is incorrect. I am not against a Sports Code per se. A Sports Code is basically meant to promote sports. While it is very easy to say that administrators are not doing enough for sports, I will say that if it had not been for administrators where would have been sports in India?

Today, sponsors are coming forward whether it is cricket or badminton. But these are limited to certain Olympic sports, or where you have large companies in India having an interest in promoting sports. So in those Olympic sports, you find that there is a lot of development. Sports has also changed, so sports administrators have to change their attitudes. And don’t forget that the administrators have to strike a balance between transparency and governance. I think by and large many sports federations are doing it. OK, you might say it is taking a lot of time. But to change issues in Government, it takes a lot of time.

Where exactly do you pick holes in the National Sports Code?

Age and tenure in the National Sports Federations, I don’t think you should enforce them strictly. There are many Federations where Presidents of NSFs have gone on to take positions in the international arena/international bodies. It takes a lot of time to get on to sports bodies. Whether it has been in the past or present, people such as (Sivanthi) Adityan (volleyball), Suresh Kalmadi (athletics), Lalit Bhanot (athletics) or Anil Khanna (tennis) or me (squash) have had positions in international bodies. It takes a long time to get on to a world body. When it takes you so long to get on to a world body, to restrict the tenure of Presidents only for three terms, I feel is incorrect.

As far as age is concerned, 70 is the limit for an IOC member. You continue to be an honorary member after 70. Only that you don’t have the voting rights. Otherwise, the privileges are the same. There must be some via media on this vis-a-vis the Government. If the Secretary or the President of a Federation is doing well on the International scene, they must make him an exception. And that should not be at the whims and fancies of the Government. Age shouldn’t be the sole criterion to decide on an office-bearer’s tenure. As long as the individual is able to develop the sport and is able to bring funds, he should continue.

How far have you succeeded in making the IOA financially independent?

Basically, the only way to ensure that the IOA has a path independent of the Government is to make the IOA financially independent. We’ve succeeded in getting sponsors. For a start, at our last AGM we have given every State Olympic Association and NSF Rs. 3 lakh per year. This is going to be a recurring feature. We find that many State Olympic Associations are suffering for want of funds. It is the State Olympic Associations that nurture sports. Unless you fund them or encourage them, sport will not grow in that particular region. We decided to fund every National Sports Federation and every State Olympic Association irrespective of the profile of the sport. We are looking at a situation where the IOA becomes financially independent.

We have already made the first instalment. This will be progressively increased as we start getting more funds. We are already in discussions with three private companies who are willing to give the IOA Rs. 10 crores in two years’ time.

Is it possible in the longer run?

You will have to sell the IOA as a brand to raise more money. When kabaddi can do so well (Pro Kabaddi) why not the IOA? Once you sell the IOA as a brand (the brand has a lot of potential) all the Sports Federations don’t have to go to the Government of India.

Will that be feasible?

At least I can make a start. This is something nobody has thought of. I am only focusing on that area. Even assuming that you get Rs. 25 crores and you are also getting funds from the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Council of Asia. Pool all this together and give it to the Federations that don’t have enough money. In that case definitely sports will improve. This is what I intend to do in my first term.

How can we measure your success in this regard?

Don’t judge me today. Judge me after one term.

What funding model do you suggest for the IOA?

The IOA has TV rights and we’ll sell them. If the money for the broadcasting rights for the National Games are given to the IOA, we don’t need Government funds. The problem today is you have to go to the Government for everything. We have to discuss these issues with the Government. The IOA has formed a committee to have discussions with the Government (on these issues).

The biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

The biggest challenge is to achieve unanimity and avoid infighting (in IOA).

Easier said than done?

I agree with you 100 per cent. I have the full co-operation of my team. We have to sit and resolve these issues. There is nothing which cannot be resolved by discussion.

But there is a charge that you are dominating and headstrong?

Everybody has a different style of functioning. My style is different from others. If you want to get things done you have to push. Unless you push for what you want you are not going to get it done. That might not be liked by some. Some might think I am pushy, some might think I am dominating, some might think that I am arrogant or headstrong.

Does that charge stand true for all heads of Federations?

India is a particularly difficult country to do any business or run a sports body because we are a mini European Union. We have to get people from different walks of life/cultures together, get them all to agree on a common platform where you can sit and discuss. There are ways of resolving many issues and I think discussion will solve most of the issues. It has been said that I have been pushy and one who likes to do things my way. As long as you are successful you are right. The winner is always right, they say. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “History is written by winners.”

How confident are you of squash figuring in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

A spot was opened up once wrestling was dropped by the executive Board of the IOC. Then it brought back wrestling, which became one of the shortlisted sports and went for a decision in Buenos Aires at the IOC AGM nearly two years ago. At that time they opted to take wrestling back. Once Thomas Bach took over IOC, he consulted a lot of people and several committees were set up. Based on that, 40 recommendations were accepted by the IOC AGM in his first year itself. In that one of the things was to take a re-look at new sports that were likely to be taken for the Olympics. In that the host city had the authority to add a few sports. A door was opened a little and we put our foot in. We have made a proposal to the Tokyo Games Organising Committee. First I met the IOC member from Japan and then the head of the Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee in January this year. A fortnight ago, we made a representation on behalf of the WSF. 25 sports had applied and eight were shortlisted. We feel we have improved the game, changed it for TV. We are a fit sport for the 2020 Olympics.

How about India’s medal chances in the Rio Olympics?

I will leave it to the National Sports Federations to interact with the Government of India and obtain as much funds as possible. Due to various policies of the Government, it is directly dealing with the players and the Sports Federations. About The Target Olympic Podium (TOP), we were not consulted as the Government took a view in consultation with the Sports Federations. There is no IOA representation in TOP. We have been asking for it, but it’s not been given yet.

Boxing and basketball are in a mess. Your views?

The issues with boxing are going to be resolved very quickly because the International body (AIBA) is talking to the IOA to sort things out. Earlier, the AIBA had de-recognised the IABF and recognised Boxing India, but it has since de-recognised BI too, and now an ad-hoc committee has been formed.

Boxers and the state units have made a representation to the AIBA, and the AIBA, in consultation with the IOA, will arrive at an early resolution.

On basketball, the IOA will consult the international body and come up with a solution.

What are the highlights of your career?

We had the IOA elections on February 9, 2014 and within three days the IOC re-admitted the IOA into the Olympic movement. Which I think is my single greatest contribution.