The year when India is going to host both the Commonwealth Games as well as the World Cup Hockey championships couldn’t have started in a more unfortunate way. The first is of course the fracas revolving around the strike of the Indian hockey players and their refusal to play till the time their arrears were paid. While the governing body known as Hockey India was quick to literally term the players unpatriotic and accuse them of putting money before the essence of playing for India, what was appalling was not only the fact that the arrears (running into lakhs) of the said hockey players had not been paid for a long duration, but also that Hockey India actually offered a pittance of Rs 25,000 for each player in lieu of the arrears. And this too was offered to them only with the condition that either the striking players accepted it or left the conditioning camp within 48 hours. Needless to say, the authorities were perhaps thinking that it would be easy for them to lure junior players to replace the existing team. But then as it turned out, the juniors refused to budge and sided with their seniors. The striking hockey players have been consistently telling that this agitation is not for any self-serving mission, but to fix the rot in the system. And finally, when it caught the fancy of the common man and the media, and there were cries to set things right, money did start pouring in and things were settled down for the time being after the intervention of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) Chairman, Suresh Kalmadi. But this clearly is more like a band-aid strip. The rot still remains! The second incident is with respect to the way the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) behaved with Abhinav Bindra. NRAI suddenly remembered that discipline is a virtue and disqualified Abhinav Bindra from participating in next month’s Commonwealth Shooting Championship. Well, Abhinav needs no introduction. But for those who manage NRAI, perhaps being India’s lone gold medalist in the Beijing Olympics was not a sufficient condition to give Abhinav a readymade berth. This time too things got sorted out later after the intervention of the IOA. As in the case above, the rot still remains. It goes without saying that Indian hockey players are paid chicken feed when compared to their cricketing counterparts. And the most shameless thing is that even when this team wins the Asia Cup (2007), Azlan Shah Cup (2009) or bags the bronze medal at a Champions Challenge tournament in 2009, they are still not paid their promised piecemeal few lakhs in time. Well, patriotism is not something that can happen on empty stomachs. The crux of all the problems lies in the way each of the sports associations have become a personal fiefdom of politicians and also a place to settle their remaining political scores. For example, for a long time, Indian hockey was the personal fiefdom of former Punjab police DGP KPS Gill. It was in 2008 that the Indian Hockey Federation was dismantled following a series of bribery scandals and it was replaced by Hockey India, which has proved to be equally inept. The same is the case of IOA, which has almost become a personal fiefdom of Suresh Kalmadi, even when India’s performance in international sports has only been sliding and has almost reached the nadir. Had it been a private entity, no such non-performing CEO would have been kept at the helm for such a long time without any substantial result to show. Just like a soldier cannot fight without the right kind of support system in terms of logistics, food, ammunitions, weapons, clothing and information about enemy positions, no team of any sporting order can perform effectively unless the governing bodies are accountable for what they deliver to the players, as well as to that game. Cricket is an interesting case in point. BCCI is one of the richest sports bodies of the world, yet has created a clear demarcation between election bodies and the efficient administration of the game. It has been extremely successful in marketing the game – and thereby bringing in billions of revenues - and also in nurturing and nourishing new talents. And the results have been there to see. Not only has BCCI nurtured and worked towards improving the Indian cricket team’s performance in this century, but BCCI also has been successful in launching the IPL and making it a resounding success and an interesting example of what a sporting body can do to a game. IPL has opened up a vista of opportunity for hundreds of players, who would probably not even make it to the final eleven of their national teams, yet have enough talent to enthrall the audience. The same is the case with what FIFA has done to football. The only thing that can save India’s sports now is when we learn from China about how a nation can win hundreds of medals - mostly gold - while we remain content with just one gold and a few bronze medals. The need of the hour is perhaps to completely shun all the politicians and non-professionals from all the governing bodies of each sport and convert these bodies into corporate entities, which are accountable to the government. BCCI actually can play a crucial role in nurturing the sporting bodies. Let professionals run the organizations. Let retired players be the selectors and let everyone and not just the players be accountable. What was shocking to see was that the government didn’t react much to either of the incidents mentioned above. There was no furor among the political parties. Couldn’t the government have stepped forward with a few crore rupees to save India’s hockey? Couldn’t someone have taken action against those who insulted Abhinav Bindra? Unfortunately, this apathy from the top is the crux of all the malaise.
- 21 January 2010 |