For more than 14 months, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) stubbornly refused to listen to reason. It engaged in a ‘no-win’ stand-off with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), staking the country’s Olympic future. It drew contempt for its officials amidst a power struggle, before accepting the inevitable. Suspended by the IOC in December 2012 for violation of the OlympicCharter, the IOA eventually bowed to every diktat of the former in holding fresh elections on February 9 under IOC-dictated rules. This has paved the way for India’s return to the Olympic fold. What started off as a tussle between the Union government and the IOA regarding the implementation of the National Sports Code, ended up in a ‘cleansing’ operation that kept out officials “charge-framed” by courts from the elections ordered by the IOC. The IOC advocates ‘principles of good governance’ while the IOA has through the years tried to hide behind the cloak of ‘autonomy’ ordained in the Charter. The government, faced with criticism both within and outside Parliament about poor administration of sports in the country, had started tightening the rules governing the IOA and the national federations, when the IOC slapped the suspension on India.
The quick response of the IOC in lifting the suspension to enable the Indian tricolour to be flown at the ongoing Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia, showed that it was completely satisfied with a repentant IOA. The IOC might have managed to push through more stringent clauses than that could have been possible in other times while demanding clarity to the IOA constitution. But problem areas still remain. The IOA could be expected to bargain hard with the government in order to retain what is left of its autonomy and that of the national federations when the draft National Sports Development Bill is amended. The 25 per cent representation in the Executive to Athletes’ Commission members, as incorporated in the draft, is far from reality. The continuation of State Olympic associations as voting-members in the IOA, in a clear attempt to manipulate vote banks, is much against the provisions in the Olympic Charter, and the wishes of the IOC and the government. National federations in boxing, fencing and taekwondo remain suspended by the respective international federations and were barred from voting in the recent IOA elections. The IOA needs to facilitate their quick return to international sports. Faction feuds within federations should be tackled urgently, and so too questions related to the democratic functioning of the sports bodies that have come up in court cases. The IOA chief, N. Ramachandran, who represents a new phase and has taken over in challenging circumstances, has his task cut out.