Kalmadi and Chautala's appointment as IOA life presidents is symptom of what is wrong with Indian sports

Though the appointments have snowballed into a controversy, they clearly are representative of the fact that Indian sports system has perished from within; and it is beyond repair

Graft-tainted politician and former sports administrator, Suresh Kalmadi was appointed the life president of the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) on Tuesday, much to the shock of the nation. Abhay Chautala was also appointed its life president. Sports Minister Vijay Goel was quick to respond with a curt reply that Kalmadi’s appointment was unacceptable.

“We are shocked at the resolution passed by the IOA to make Suresh Kalmadi and Abhay Chautala Life Presidents of the IOA which is totally unacceptable to us as both of them are facing serious corruption and criminal charges,” sports minister Vijay Goel said in a statement.

“We have sought details and on receipt of the complete report we shall review the whole situation and take appropriate action,” he added.

The IOA, however, defended its decision saying it didn’t need any approval to appoint a sports administrator.

“IOA General Body does not need any clearance from anybody to appoint any person a life president or patron. It was within the rights of the IOA. Moreover, all the past presidents have been made life presidents or patrons,” PTI quoted IOA vice-president Tarlochan Singh.

Though the appointments have snowballed into a controversy, they clearly are representative of the fact that Indian sports system has perished from within; and it is beyond repair. Both Kalmadi and Chautala had unclean records in managing sports.

Suresh Kalmadi had been sacked from the position of IOA chief for his alleged involvement in CWG scam. He had spent 10 months in jail after CBI framed charges. He is currently out on bail. Even the Congress party had suspended him in 2010. Chautala had also served as president of Indian Amateur Boxing Federation- which AIBA derecognised for alleged manipulation in IABF elections.

It was crystal clear that the men in question have had a dubious past. However, they were still chosen to be included in the sports body with honorary positions. The question that must be asked is: What were they honoured for? What is their contribution to sports? Kalmadi had served as IOA president from 1996 to 2011. India got only 1 medal in 1996, 1 bronze medal in 2000, 1 medal in 2004, and only  3 medals in 2008. These numbers are not inspiring for a country that is 1.25 billion strong. Who is responsible for such poor displays consistently? Certainly not our sportspersons who are devoid of resources to train for world events like Olympics- especially when the sports bodies are led by politicians who don’t understand sports at all. These politicians bring politics in sports- hence we never win.

Indians sports have been grappling with the audacious and brazen interference of the politicians. Talk about any sports bodies across the nation. There would only be a few that are led by sportspersons. The system is designed to keep the sportsmen out of sports management. Even if they are included, they work under the aegis of politicians, who manage sports like a political party. They are more interested in consolidation of their influence than providing facilities to sportspersons.

The attitude of the sports bodies under the leadership of politicians remains patronising rather than inspiring. They meddle in the selection process, in resources allocation, in the election of other members of the governing body. Their method of functioning is titled towards serving their own interests rather than serving the interests of players. Players struggle for basic infrastructure and quality training before major competitions. And if by chance, a player wins a medal, these politicians do not flinch away from claiming credit for their success. Ironically, the politicians who won’t support players financially when they are preparing would announce hefty prize money once they win medals. These politicians want a return for their investment- the return is not medals, but political mileage.

The result of unworthy leadership reflects on the performance of players. For many Olympians, the politicians make the journey to the Olympics so tough that they get a sense of an achievement only to able to represent the country. Indian athletes compete against athletes of the United States, Britain, and China that put their full force behind them. These countries have robust systems led by professionals, not politicians. They have world-class facilities and inspiring leaders against Indian athletes who have tainted politicians running the show.

In the recent Olympic games, India won only two medals in the Rio games. Sports minister Vijay Goel was present there to cheer players- though the result showed his presence didn’t help much. He is again making sweeping statements in this controversy. But even after the Olympic fiasco, it didn’t occur in his imagination to overhaul the rotting system completely. Statements won’t bring medals, actions will! Ban politicians from sports, or don’t expect our athletes to do well in Olympics!