IOA in a moral dilemma over choice of life peers

With the Ministry bearing most of the expenses of the various national federations from training to participation of sportsmen, and having the right to de-recognise them for non-compliance of rules, it remains to be seen whether the threat would force the IOA to reconsider the decision.

Suresh Kalmadi Abhay Chautala

IOA came under much criticism for appointing tainted officials Suresh Kalmadi (left) and Abhay Singh Chautala as Life Presidents.   -  PTI

Things are never dull in Indian sports. More than any on-field exploit by the athletes, it is the shenanigans of those running the various sporting bodies that fuel controversy ever so often.

The latest has been the >appointment of former presidents Suresh Kalmadi and Abhay Chautala as “honorary life presidents” by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Chennai on Tuesday that sparked off several rounds of political sniping and led to Kalmadi himself declining the post on Wednesday.

While Sports Minister Vijay Goel expressed concern at the decision late night, the Ministry went ahead and issued a showcause notice to the IOA on Wednesday, threatening to sever ties if the decision was not taken back. “This move is against the constitution of IOA and is not acceptable to the Sports Ministry. We want transparency in sports. Till the time, these two don’t resign or are sacked, we will not deal with the IOA,” Goel said here.

With the Ministry bearing most of the expenses of the various national federations from training to participation of sportsmen, and having the right to de-recognise them for non-compliance of rules, it remains to be seen whether the threat would force the IOA to reconsider the decision. The government, however, doesn't have any control over the IOA directly; it can only exercise its powers through the various constituent federations.

'Respect autonomy but transparency also important'

At the same time, Goel, in an attempt to deflect any charge of government interference, also claimed the Ministry respected the autonomy of the federations and the International Olympic Committee charter. “We believe in the autonomy of federations in their working. At the same time, good governance, transparency and accountability are important to run sports smoothly in the country. I am disappointed because both are facing cases of corruption,” Goel said.

> Kalmadi, Chautala decline IOA posts

Things took a turn later in the day after Kalmadi's lawyer Hitesh Jain claimed that the former IOA top boss had declined the post in a letter to IOA president N. Ramachandran and would not be associated with the IOA till his name was cleared in all pending cases. Kalmadi is one of the main accused in the 2010 Commonwealth Games scam and was the IOA president from 1996-2011.

"I thank the Indian Olympic Association for conferring the honour of Life President on me. However, I do not feel that it would be appropriate for me to accept this honour at this time," Kalmadi wrote to Ramachandran. "I am confident that my name will be cleared and I will defer acceptance of the honour till such time," he added.

Chautala defiant

Chautala, however, had earlier in the day slammed Goel even as IOA officials claimed the move was “constitutionally valid” since the two would not hold any executive powers or voting rights. Chautala said that the cases pending against him were all “political” and that the Minister would do better to concentrate on fulfilling his responsibilities “because if he does that, our medal count will increase manifold and he will get credit for that, instead of getting into a controversy without knowing full facts.”

READ: >Chautala: 'Vijay Goel has failed as a Sports Minister'

Chautala served as IOA president from December 2012-February 2014 before his election was annulled and the IOA suspended by the world body for fielding charge-sheeted candidates.

IOA vice-president Narinder Batra, who recently took over as the FIH president, broke ranks and insisted that he was against the appointments and would rather quit the IOA than be associated with such decisions. “Rule 5 of IOA's constitution clearly states that anyone who has been charged/framed under IPC or under prevention of corruption act can't be in IOA. I don't know exactly what charges have been levelled against Kalmadi and Chautala. But they both should not accept the post until their names are cleared. It sends out negative signals to the global sports fraternity," Batra said.

Maken calls for strict measures

Former Sports Minister Ajay Maken, meanwhile, called on the government to take strong action even while appreciating the prompt cognizance by the ministry on the matter. Terming the appointments as "sad and painful", he also asked the government to approach the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the issue. “As a former sports minister, the IOA's decision is sad and painful. This decision is not good for sports and India's image,"

"I request the sports minister to not only convey his reservations but take strong actions to reverse the decision. All the National Sports Federations are funded by the Sports Ministry, so if the government exercises its full powers, there is no reason the matter can't be resolved."

Maken asked for other steps from the government to resolve the issue – pressurise the IOA to roll back the decision, approach the IOC's Ethics Committee and support any Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed on the matter. “Their appointment is like a countdown to disaster for Indian sports,” he added.

Vijay Kumar Malhotra was also named honorary life president last year.