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A chaos of Olympic proportions

Indian sport is in a state of confusion following the suspension of its Olympic body —IOA.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Published: September 8, 2013 2:48:10 am

The Commonwealth Games have returned to haunt Vijay Kumar Malhotra. The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) wants the New Delhi-leg of the Queen’s Baton Relay for the Glasgow Games to be held either on October 12 or 13. And as one of only two Indian members recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC),the onus is on Malhotra to ensure the event passes off without glitch.

There’s a little more than a month to go for the event and it looks like they’ll be forced to hit the ground running,stuttering even: everything,from finalising the route to obtaining permits,is still to be planned. To add to his woes,with IOA’s bank accounts frozen,the £3,000 that the CGF offers to the relay hosts will be difficult to access. It is a minor issue,but shows how pervasive the problem is,so much so that it has begun to affect even the smallest of details.

At 81,one would expect Malhotra to do what any other person his age would — ease into retirement. Instead,the BJP leader,veteran sports administrator and the acting president of the IOA recognised by the IOC,is torn between fulfilling his party commitments as the big elections near and addressing the issues dogging the IOA. “I thought my job will get over with last year’s elections. But the suspension and the complications that came along meant I had to stay,” he rues,sitting in his residence-cum-office in the makeshift IOA headquarters.

The IOA was suspended by IOC on December 4,2012. Explaining its decision,the IOC had cited three reasons for the extreme step: government interference,violation of the Olympic Charter while conducting elections and ignoring basic principles of ethics and governance.

An Olympic committee suspension means a national body is ineligible for IOC funding,officials from the suspended federation are barred from attending international meetings and its athletes can’t compete under the national flag at the Olympics. But as Malhotra’s quandary suggests,the entire IOA machinery has collapsed in the last nine months,leaving the federations and athletes in a lurch.

NADA’S PREDICAMENT

The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) finds itself in a very tricky situation. Ahead of the Asian Athletics Championships in Pune in July,the anti-doping watchdog caught shot-putter P Udaya Lakshmi for using banned substances. This was the athlete’s second doping violation but the NADA is finding it difficult to build a strong case against the sprinter-turned-shot-putter,with the details of the prior test conducted during the 2002 National Games not forthcoming.

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) directed NADA to knock on the doors of the IOA,who conducted the tests back then. With the IOA suspended,there has been no headway with regard to obtaining the details of Lakshmi’s first positive test. A second violation can result in an enhanced ban whereas the first offense attracts only a two-year suspension. And with the IOA showing little interest in digging into the past files,there’s a strong possibility that the repeat offender could get away lightly.

NADA director general Mukul Chatterjee says that it has been nearly a fortnight since his office wrote to the IOA. “There has been no reply from the IOA on the Udaya Lakshmi case. Unless IOA provides us the details the NADA disciplinary panel won’t have the full picture of the athlete’s doping history,” Chatterjee says.

This is just one example of the administrative mess that Indian sport is in due to IOA’s suspension. Obtaining past records,allocating funds and planning for future tournaments have all been hit. “It’s all chaotic. The IOA is the sole point of co-ordination between multiple parties,from the athletes to national federations and the world and continental Olympic bodies. Since its suspension,the cycle is disrupted,” says an IOA staffer. Communications from the IOC and Olympic Council of Asia (OCA),which were earlier sent to the IOA,are now marked directly to the Malhotra and Randhir Singh,IOA secretary general.

YAG DISASTER

Malhotra says even though the IOA headquarters is in the loop,no decision can be taken without his approval,delaying the basic administrative process. The Asian Youth Games in Nanjing last month was a prime example of how messy things can get without IOA’s direct involvement.It was the first multi-discipline event India took part in after the IOA’s suspension and the system stood exposed,increasing fears of bigger problems during next year’s Asian and Commonwealth Games

The IOA failed to appoint a Chef de Mission for the Youth Asian Games and the confusion that marred the Indian contingent in Nanjing was evident. Almost one-third of Indian athletes were disqualified as they failed to comply with participation criteria. The shuttlers returned after the Badminton Association of India failed to send the entries within the deadline and over a dozen athletes were disqualified after they were found to be over-age. The revised age rules,which allowed only those born in January 2007 (or after) to participate were overlooked by the AFI,which put it down to a lack of guidance from a dysfunctional IOA.

Anjana Thamke,who won the 800m gold medal in Nanjing,recalls how hollow it felt to be on the podium and not hear the national anthem. “It was a disappointing feeling,when in my first international tournament,after winning the gold medal,my national anthem wasn’t played owing to the suspension. Another disappointment was that the national flag wasn’t raised. I won the only track and field gold for India but that was not recognized,” she says.

FEARING THE WORST

The repercussions of the national governing body’s expulsion are being felt in other sports as well.

The International Boxing Federation (AIBA) cited IOA’s suspension as the primary reason for provisionally barring the Indian Boxing Federation (IBF). It is alleged that Abhay Singh Chautala wrongfully created the post of chairman in the IBF so he could contest IOA elections. The AIBA noted the misconduct and suspended the federation.

Last week,it set a November 4 deadline for the IBF to conduct fresh elections,failing which Indian boxers will not be allowed to participate in international tournaments. And considering that the IOA elections are unlikely to be held before December,the boxers are likely to be out in the cold.

India narrowly avoided an embarrassment last month during the Glasgow Games co-ordination committee meeting. When a copy of the CGF letter was sent to the IOA headquarters,Chautala and Co (from the de-recognised IOA) recommended BP Baishya. The CGF shot down the proposal and asked Malhotra to suggest a representative. GS Mander eventually attended the crucial meeting.

With most of the office-bearers of various sports federations involved in the IOA battle,the planning for CWG and Asian Games has taken a backseat. This was recognised by the Sports Authority of India and Sports Ministry,who have projected a 30 per cent fall in India’s medals tally for the CWG.

Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar says this is the time when all countries usually enter the final stretch of the preparations for the Asian and Commonwealth Games. “We are clueless over the status of our national body. All of us have seen how disorganised things were at Youth Asian Games. We don’t want that next year during Asian Games and CWG. The IOA should be focussing on improving India’s chances to win more medals. Let’s hope sanity prevails,” Kumar says.

Indian athletes cannot take part in international competitions under the national flag. The ban means the funding that IOA receives from IOC will stop and athletes will lose out crores in training funds.

The entries of nearly one-third of India’s contingent was disqualified by the organisers of the Youth Asian Games due to missed deadlines and age violation. The contingent went to Nanjing without a Chef de Mission.

The International Boxing Federation (AIBA) cited IOA’s suspension as the primary reason for provisionally barring the Indian Boxing Federation. If the IBF does not conduct its elections by November,Indian boxers won’t be allowed to participate in international meets.

Allocating the funds for various tournament has become a complicated process for the sports ministry. “We usually disburse the funds to the IOA,who then pass it on to the athletes. With IOA suspended,the money has to be routed through the federations,” sports secretary PK Deb said.

With most of the office bearers of sports federations involved in the IOA battle,the planning for next year’s Commonwealth and Asian Games along with Winter Olympics has taken a beating.

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