Some facts you must know about management of sports in India and govt involvement

Rio Olympics are over and India has returned with only 2 medals. We are disappointed, and rightly so, and are blaming various things – from ourselves for not developing a sporting culture to Sports Minister Vijay Goel for clicking selfies and passing gaffes.

Goel’s gaffes have especially compounded the issue of how much the government is involved in supporting and managing sporting affairs in the country. So we thought to present some facts in this regard, some of which you might not be knowing:

Government is not involved in management of sports: Sports is managed by respective National Sports Federations in India, which are independent bodies that organize competitive events, select sportsperson to represent the state or country at various levels, and help promote sports in different parts of the country. Government helps these federations (will be explained later), facilitates their events and operations, builds sporting infrastructure, and gives sporting awards.

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Sports federations are autonomous non-government bodies: The respective national sports federations are autonomous bodies, often registered as societies in India just like the BCCI, and the government has no role in administration or appointment of members of these federations (except liaison officers, who are appointed in consultation with the sports ministry but are not deemed government employees). These national federations further have state level federations, all of which have their own rules, by-laws, and their own constitution or charter that guide their functioning and management.

Anyone can form a sports federation: If you are a group of people deeply passionate about a sport that you think is worth promotion in India, you can form a federation. However, that doesn’t automatically give you any privileges. To gain some privileges, it has to be affiliated to the respective international sports federation, e.g. All India Football Federation is affiliated to FIFA. If the concerned international sports federation is affiliated to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and it grants you the affiliation, your federation becomes eligible to become a member of the IOA (Indian Olympic Association) and be recognized as a National Sports Federation by the government.

Recognized sports federations receive assistance from the government: This is where government comes into play for promotion and development of sports. The sports ministry assesses application of various national level sports federations and gives them recognized status, after which they can receive financial grants (under various schemes) and other assistance that include permission to use public infrastructure such as stadiums and sporting equipment for training and development of sportspersons.

Even non-Olympic sports federations can get recognized by the government: While recognition from the government is easy if a national sports federation is affiliated to IOA, it is not a necessary requirement. In 2016, 49 national sports federations were recognized, which includes non-Olympic sports like “tug of war” and “body building”. Kho-kho and Kabaddi are popular examples of non-Olympic sports that are recognized by the government and are eligible to get assistance.

BCCI never bothered to apply to become a recognized national sports federation: This is where cricket is different from other non-Olympic sports. BCCI, which is essentially the national sports federation for cricket, never applied for a recognized status from the government. This is why they argue to be kept out of RTI as they don’t receive direct government assistance. Back in 2011, they were invited by the then Sports Minister Ajay Maken to register as a national sports federation, but BCCI didn’t oblige.

Sports federations affiliated to IOA have rights to send sportspersons and officials to events: Contrary to what many think, government doesn’t select or send sportspersons and supporting staff to international events. IOA is the non-government autonomous body that works with member sports federation to choose sportspersons for international events such as CWG, Asian Games, or Olympics, and for other events such as National Games. IOA is a member of IOC, which again is an autonomous body at the international level. IOA also works with the government and local authorities for organizing sporting events in India.

Sporting events are organized and managed by various stakeholders: Whether for Olympics or other events like CWG, there is an organizing committee that comprises of members of apex bodies like the IOA or IOC, and local authorities like municipality for local facilities, local government for security and clearances, and other local authorities for infrastructure and other needs. Funding comes from government as well as non government sources. Respective sports federations manage affairs of the participating sportspersons and the contingent.

Government can’t interfere in management of sports federations: Even though the federations receive assistance from the government, the government has no executive powers to interfere in their management. In fact, often it is counterproductive. For example the IOA was suspended by IOC in 2012 when it felt that the Indian government was interfering in the IOA elections. This meant that India would have not been able to take part in Olympics if the suspension was not revoked.

IOA or international federations can act against sports federations: What if some sports federation is not working dutifully and properly? Unfortunately the government can’t act against them as they are independent bodies, though they can be denied some assistance and grants. However the IOA or the international federation of that sport can take punitive actions. For example, the Indian Boxing Federation was suspended in 2012 by its international federation, while the IOA had suspended Indian Hockey Federation in 2008.
What if there is no rampant malpractice attracting suspension, but a sports federation is disastrously incompetent? The option could be a group of better people either breaking up the existing federation or forming a new rival federation. They can subsequently apply for affiliation to the respective international federation, and for recognition as national sports federation with the sports ministry.

Government can, however, formulate rules and laws for sports: While the government can’t interfere, even with right intentions, in functioning or management of the sports federations, it can formulate rules and laws that these federations could be asked to follow. However, these should not be in direct conflict with rules and by-laws of the corresponding international federations, else there will again be the risk of suspension of national federations from international events e.g. FIFA banned Kuwait when the Middle Eastern nation tried to pass a law that FIFA thought was not good for autonomy of sports federations.

Many sports bodies and associations are controlled by politicians: While the government can’t interfere in management of sports federations, it’s true that politicians from virtually every political party are members of some or the other national sports federation or of the affiliated bodies of that federation. Many politicians are members of multiple sports bodies, which often leaves the public wondering how come they are experts of so many sports.

We didn’t have any Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports at all before 1982: The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports was instituted only after India got to host the 1982 Asian Games. The government built some new stadiums and renovated some old ones for these games, after which the management of these stadiums was transferred to a subsequently formed organization called the Sports Authority of India (SAI). Sports Ministry and SAI are entrusted to build more such infrastructure to promote various sports in consultation with sports federations and advisory bodies like “All India Council of Sports”.

USA, the topper of Rio Olympics medals table, has no Sports Ministry till date: There is no ministry or central government body in the USA that oversees sports and its development. However, the country has a Department of Health and Human Services, which advises local bodies and schools to spend on sports, which is central to well-being. Sports is also closely associated with education in the US, with organized sporting events being part of most of the high schools and colleges. Something to learn from them?

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