IT IS TIME TO PLAY FAIR

India Today - - UPFRONT - ABHINAV BIN­DRA Abhinav Bin­dra is an in­ter­na­tional shooter, the only In­dian ath­lete to win an in­di­vid­ual Olympic gold medal

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!

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

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