A GAME OF POLITICS
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.