A GAME OF POL­I­TICS

India Today - - UP FRONT - MAN­ISHA MALHOTRA A for­mer tennis cham­pion, Man­isha Malhotra is CEO of Mit­tal Cham­pi­ons Trust

The re­cent con­tro­versy over team­ing up tennis icons Le­an­der Paes and Ma­hesh Bhu­pathi for the Lon­don Olympics is symp­to­matic of what ails In­dian sport. While the for­mer part­ners went to town about not set­ting foot on court to­gether, what sur­prised a lot of peo­ple was the All In­dia Tennis As­so­ci­a­tion ( AITA) openly tak­ing sides. This is noth­ing new. In­ept han­dling of ace play­ers is preva­lent in all sports in the coun­try.

While the fed­er­a­tion was con­fi­dent that it would con­vince both Ma­hesh and Le­an­der to bury the hatchet once again ( it has in­ter­vened sev­eral times in the past), its in­ten­tion was sus­pect. Was it do­ing things in the best in­ter­est of the play­ers, coun­try or it­self? Nei­ther player wanted to play with the other. So putting in a duo that has been to the last three Olympics with­out any suc­cess and who have openly said they can­not win with each other is not ex­actly in the best in­ter­ests of the coun­try. Of course, AITA couldn’t have been ques­tioned ex­ces­sively be­cause this is the best team on pa­per, and had they paired up and failed ( again), no one in In­dia would have cared about ac­count­abil­ity any­way.

This should change. The coun­try should come first, then the sys­tem, and play­ers should re­ally not be able to dic­tate their terms and con­di­tions to ei­ther. How­ever, there is a huge dis­con­nect be­tween all three in our na­tion, which could re­ally be why we fare so poorly in the medals tally.

The Gov­ern­ment of In­dia is the big­gest fun­der of sport; it has the high­est num­ber of fa­cil­i­ties and yet, at the end of the day, it has no say. The fed­er­a­tions, who take the “we are au­ton­o­mous bod­ies” stand while avail­ing of gov­ern­ment funds, still call all the shots, and then come the play­ers. Does this bode well for sport? Ab­so­lutely not.

Fed­er­a­tions in In­dia have the ben­e­fit of be­ing in a po­si­tion where they can do as they please with­out any ac­count­abil­ity. It could be decades with­out medals and still it’s sta­tus quo. Even play­ers mis­trust the fed­er­a­tions, which is why they are some­times not will­ing to lis­ten to them and at other times lis­ten only un­der duress of dis­ci­plinary ac­tion. The play­ers know that in ev­ery fed­er­a­tion the peo­ple call­ing the shots are not ex­perts and therein lies the prob­lem. The se­lec­tion com­mit­tees con­sist of ‘ yes men’ or cronies of the peo­ple in power. The fed­er­a­tions are also not work­ing to­wards the best in­ter­ests of play­ers. Most fed­er­a­tions don’t even have a log­i­cal and trans­par­ent sys­tem which leaves the win­dow for last- minute pol­i­tick­ing wide open. Is this be­cause they don’t know how to come up with a suc­cess­ful sys­tem or be­cause they don’t want to? The fed­er­a­tions re­ally need to re­alise that they ex­ist to serve the play­ers.

The Gov­ern­ment is also to blame. It has been try­ing to rein in fed­er­a­tions and rep­ri­mand them while its own Sports Author­ity of In­dia ( SAI) is in a sham­bles, be­ing run by peo­ple who have no idea about sport. SAI has ‘ ad­vis­ers’ with very lit­tle cred­i­bil­ity. It does have for­eign ex­perts for al­most all the pri­or­ity sports, yet the ex­perts’ opin­ions are never taken. In­stead, it is the ‘ gov­ern­ment ob­server’ who has the say. So we can go to the Olympics and not win a sin­gle medal and still ev­ery­thing would be fine.

Then there are the play­ers. The In­dian ath­lete has meta­mor­phosed from the ‘ poor soul’ to some­one who has a voice. The hand­ful of suc­cess­ful ath­letes are first to say they are all prod­ucts “in spite of the sys­tem” and not be­cause of it. They now use their suc­cess as a bar­gain­ing chip to co­erce both the Gov­ern­ment and the fed­er­a­tions. Any de­cent re­sult ( even a South Asian Games medal) and the ath­letes are ea­ger to cash in. Af­ter the 2010 Com­mon­wealth Games, ath­letes only started prac­tis­ing in March 2011 be­cause they were busy go­ing from fe­lic­i­ta­tion to fe­lic­i­ta­tion, some­times for as lit­tle as Rs 5,000.

It is not hard to come up with a sys­tem; there are spe­cial­ists avail­able the world over to help with this. Un­til we can come up with a sys­tem that is best for the coun­try, we will keep deal­ing with in­ep­ti­tudes and get nowhere. The sys­tem has to be big­ger than any one fac­tor and be an­swer­able only to the re­sults that it achieves. Ev­ery­one in sport must be ac­count­able and un­til we are bound by noth­ing but re­sults, we will never achieve the dreams we all have for sport in our coun­try.

Fed­er­a­tions in In­dia have the ben­e­fit of be­ing in a po­si­tion where they can do as they please with­out any ac­count­abil­ity. It could be decades with­out medals and still it’s sta­tus quo. Play­ers know that in ev­ery fed­er­a­tion the peo­ple call­ing the shots are not ex­perts and therein lies the prob­lem.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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