The imperative for legislating sports

By Ashwini Nachappa | March 19, 2017

I can vividly recall our struggle as athletes in the substandard conditions and miraculously making it to wherever we could. We did so in the face of the frigid and uncompromising apathy of those at the helm of governing sport. I am amazed that despite all these man-made hurdles, we saw the rise of a few great champions. We can put it down to the good karma of these individuals!

Winds of change have started to blow, though thanks to individual efforts. But the system largely remains the same. We lose thousands of potential athletes who never even consider pursuing sports. It is here that our real failure lies. If we had a thriving system, we would have easily had talent mushrooming across the country. Cricket is one sport that has bucked the trend. And, it is thanks to a vibrant and active, though corrupt, federation—the BCCI—which has made it happen.

Interestingly, hockey had a bigger following in the 50s and 60s. Unfortunately, it lost its way because of poor governance. In Coorg, from where I hail, hockey is still alive and thriving because of a self-governing system that engages most to take to the sport. Every year, we run the world’s largest hockey tournament where more than 200 ‘families’ take part. What happens beyond this grassroots movement is a sad story of ineptitude shared by most sporting disciplines.

As India integrates into the world economy and the internet brings the world to our homes in real time, sport is getting to be not just a ‘good to have’ but a ‘need to have’. And so, governance of sports bodies has come into sharp focus, especially after the Commonwealth Games fiasco for which Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot were jailed. As a result, a sports code was mooted in 2012. Along with Justice Mudgal and other sportspersons, I had the privilege of working on it.

Illustration: Bhaskaran

The sports bill, as it came to be known, was never passed because the BCCI sees itself above any legislation. Its flawed logic was built around the notion that since it is not funded by the government, it was not imperative for the BCCI to be bound by any legislation that curbed its freedom. It required the Mudgal and Lodha committees to lay bare the intricate network of corruption of those in power. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the gates have opened for a much-needed reform that will rein in unscrupulous and selfish individuals running our sport. As I write this, there is a team that is fine-tuning the existing draft bill and, given the serious intent shown by this government, it augurs well for sports.

Good governance is as much about integrity and managerial skills as it is about executing a programme of technical excellence. Today, both are missing from most of our sports federations and other bodies. Can an inspiring sports law reform give a big fillip to sports in general? I believe it can.

Most federations at the national and state levels are run by individuals who have been at it for decades without showing any results. We are woefully behind in terms of knowledge of performance and quality of training across most disciplines. What sports legislation can do is provide an opportunity for younger people with passion and managerial skills to come in with fresh energy and new thinking. It will also ensure transparency in the way these organisations are managed. But having said that, it is easy to find a way around any legislation. We are pretty good at it!

While legislation is a must, we should also have people with integrity and the right intent to nurture and develop our country’s unimaginable potential. A law is only as good as the people who use it.

What we really need is a national nodal organisation, strengthened by the sports law that will coordinate our sporting transformation. In my next column, I will outline my vision for such an organisation.

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