IT IS TIME TO PLAY FAIR
As athletes, we are taught from an early age about the ethics of sport. We take several oaths in our careers to play with fairness, integrity and true sportsmanship. These are the values we imbibe into our character. We do this because of our respect and love for our sport and the Olympic movement. Isn’t it therefore only fair to ask that the people who administer sport also be held to the highest moral standards?
Athletes across the country would like their respective sports run by clean people who can serve in a transparent and above- board manner. We are deeply troubled because it is clear that our interests are the last thing on the minds of current Indian Olympic Association ( IOA) officials who are clamouring only for their own selfish gains.
Barely a year after our best- ever Olympic campaign, in which we won six medals, our national Olympic body has been suspended by the International Olympic Committee ( IOC) because our officials have been falling over each other to maintain their never- ending control over various national sports federations and to protect their tainted godfathers.
Rather than using the gains made in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 as a springboard for a thriving Olympic movement in the country— through athlete and sport development, through grassroots programmes, through infrastructure and coaching standards that will help us prepare for 2016, 2020 and 2024— administrators are fighting over whether or not corrupt people should be allowed to contest elections. Shouldn’t it be a no- brainer that if you have charges framed against you— which means courts have studied the police investigation, given the accused a chance to defend themselves and now believe there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial— you step aside?
As athletes, we would love to know if the administrators wanting to head our Olympic movement have a manifesto ( to borrow a term that some of these career politicians may better understand). What really are their plans to take sport forward in the country? What do they intend to do for athletes? What do they intend to do to nurture talent? How do they plan to take care of past heroes? Obviously, from their actions, it is clear that these questions haven’t even occurred to them.
The Indian Olympic movement needs leaders we can respect, not because of their political credentials but because of what they do for sport. We need people who inspire us with their actions.
The argument made for politicians as sports administrators, rather than trained professionals, is that they have the capacity to raise funds. Why is it then that the Indian Olympic team doesn’t have a permanent sponsor? Talk to corporate houses and they will say they’re sceptical of giving even a rupee to the movement because of lack of transparency and the tainted reputations of those who head it.
Every Indian athlete can tell you stories about unqualified coaches being sent on tours and about officials who lack any sporting knowledge yet remain in their posts for 20 or 30 years. Our national rowers once lived in an animal shed and had to pool in money to buy a washing machine and an air cooler to make their lives more comfortable. Another incredibly disheartening story is of an Olympian who was reduced to being a push- cart vendor. This is unfortunately a part of our existence.
But the unkindest cut of all is that these administrators are allowing the Indian Olympic Association to remain suspended for long, forcing athletes to compete under the IOC flag, thus depriving them of the one factor that adds a little bit extra to any performance— national pride. I may not say it often but the greatest moment of my career was when the Indian tricolour was raised in Beijing with the bars of the national anthem playing in the background. To snatch away that feeling from me and my fellow athletes is simply disgusting.
The Indian Olympic movement needs leaders whom we can respect— not because of their political credentials but because of what they do for sport and for athletes. We need people who can inspire us with their actions, and who show a willingness to put structures in place so that we are never in such a difficult situation again. The need of the hour is meaningful reforms, stringent ethical standards, an incorruptible system where results are the only determinant, and professionals running the IOA to make it effective.
This will give our administrators the goodwill of millions and millions of aspiring Indian athletes. Goodwill is not a bad thing. It does not swell up bank accounts but it gives you pride— which cannot be bought!