Ministry must focus on athletes not the Sports Bill

first_imgThis has been a season of false starts. It began with Usain Bolt getting disqualified in the 100m sprint at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, before sports minister Ajay Maken’s dream of getting the sports bill draft cleared by the Union cabinet met with stiff resistance.At the outset, let me make it clear that I am fully in support of a term-limit on office bearers of national sports federations, though an age limit of 70 years defies logic.At the cabinet meeting, more than one Union minister spoke of how the age limit of 70 years was unacceptable as they themselves were over the hill, but continued to feel young.However, what was worrying was Maken’s hurry to get the bill cleared by the cabinet before it could be taken up by parliament.Everyone knows that since May 2010, when sports minister MS Gill wanted to rein in the national sports federations, there has been a lot of negative current flowing.Agreed, over 30 sports federations have fallen in line with the new guidelines prescribed by the sports ministry and adhere to them because they need the government grants. But the mood now among sports federation bosses is almost like the high which Anna Hazare and his team is on after the most recent hunger strike at Ramlila Maidan in the Capital.My gut feeling is that the same sports federations which fell in line are now going to get recalcitrant as they are more or less sure this sports bill will never see the light of the day. Yes, Maken has been asked to bring the bill with alterations in the contentious clauses. But if the mood among ministers is anything to go by, be sure there is every chance that even the next time, there will be no dearth of objections.advertisementA day before the cabinet was meeting over the sports bill, I happened to be at the Rashtrapati Bhawan where President Pratibha Devisingh Patil was presenting the national sports awards.There was pride in the hearts of athletes and coaches who were receiving the awards. After the short ceremony, athletes, officials and their families moved towards the refreshment area where snacks were being served.While I had expected to see joy on the faces of athletes, there was actually tension. From middle-distance runner Preeja Sreedharan to para-swimmer Prasanta Karmakar, the athletes seemed worried as to how they were going to prepare for the London Olympics.Preeja said she missed the world championships as she had not been well. But her bigger worry was how soon she was going to get the funding from the sports ministry, so that she could train and compete abroad and also hope to achieve the qualifying mark for the London Olympics. Just imagine, if this is the plight of a star, who also has no foreign coach to look up to, what happens to the other athletes? Preeja was, in fact, hoping someone influential could present her case before the sports ministry babus so that she could focus on the sport.AS Mail Today had reported, the situation is no better for special athletes like Karmakar, who has no idea when his funding will be cleared, as he, too, needs to prepare for the Paralympics, to be held just after the Olympics.With less than 11 months to go for the London Games, is it more important we push the sports bill or genuinely focus on the athletes’ preparations? In India, sportsperson- bashing is very common.Every four years, we go back to the same question as to why a country with a population of over a billion cannot win Olympic medals in large numbers.My sympathies are with the athletes as they have to go around with a begging bowl to the government.The sports bill should not become an ego issue for our sports minister, whose TV interviews have been pretty vocal. Agreed, we live in a democracy and ministers can speak even more freely.But then, this is the time for the sports ministry to focus on London 2012 preparations and not waste time and energy over the sports bill. It was hard not to gloss through the CAG report on the Commonwealth Games (CWG) one more time.Chapter 32 focuses on training, preparations and procurement of equipment plus hiring foreign coaches for the CWG. And what came across as a revelation was how Rs 375 crore was earmarked for athletes’ training and only Rs 108.05 crore was utilised till the end of November 2010. While the common perception is that there is a shortage of funds for training Indian athletes, reality seems different.advertisementThe sports ministry, Sports Authority of India and the sports federations need to put aside their differences and work in tandem.Indian hockey finds itself in a bigger mess every day and whether the team will qualify is a big question. So complicated is the situation now the international body (FIH) is snatching events away from India. At least in disciplines where the qualification worry is over and in clear cut cases, funds must be sanctioned for athletes’ training. Cut the red tapism out please.AND what about the biggest sports body in the country, the Board of Control for Cricket in India? Their reluctance to come under the ambit of the Right to Information is understandable as their bank balance and assets run into several hundred crores. One joke doing the rounds is that the BCCI assets are like the riches in the unopened vault of the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.I would like to quote a statement Maken made in January 2011. “The BCCI has been a very generous donor to our national sports development fund. In fact, the fund stands at a mere Rs 70.8 crore, with BCCI’s contribution alone being Rs 50 crore,” he said. Maken also added: “It is also up to BCCI to have clarity of its own on whether or not it is under the government or considers itself independent.” Amazing, isn’t it? s. [email protected]last_img

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