The Asian Games Village in Jakarta will officially be opened today. But India’s chef de mission, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, will reach three days later. Reason? Panchayat by-polls in Uttar Pradesh. “I have to attend an election meeting in Meerut so I will leave for Jakarta on August 14,” Sharan told The Indian Express.
The first three days are important for the contingent. During this period, the leader is responsible to check in the entire contingent at the Village apartments and register all the team members in the Games system. The delegate registration meetings are scheduled for August 11, 12 and 13.
However, with panchayat by-elections scheduled in UP on August 17, Sharan — a BJP MP — will be attending a party meeting over the weekend before leaving for the Games. In his absence, the meetings will be attended by deputy chef de mission Rajkumar Sacheti.
Sharan won’t even be staying for the entire duration of the Games. He will be leaving Jakarta early on September 2, the day of the closing ceremony. The Wrestling Federation of India president said the decision was taken because he has no role to play during the ceremony. “There’s a lot of political work because of the Lok Sabha elections so it’s difficult to stay back there for the closing ceremony. I will be away for 15 days anyway so I have put a system in place for that duration,” Sharan said.
Following weeks of litigation and selection controversies, the team was finalised after the official send off for the team took place in Delhi on Friday. India will be sending 572 athletes in 36 sports for the Games. They will be accompanied by 183 support staff members after the sports ministry decided they will not pay for team managers and extra officials (total 49). Their expenses will have to be paid either by the IOA or the respective federation.
The ministry, however, could not intervene in IOA’s delegation as they did not include the names of their officials in the official list, fearing the government will object to some names. So even as the ministry deliberated over Sacheti’s inclusion as one of the four deputy chef de missions, the IOA dispatched him to Jakarta without bothering to wait for any approval. Sacheti was the joint director general in the 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee and a personal private secretary of former IOA president and OC chief Suresh Kalmadi, who was jailed for his role in the scandal. Sacheti’s role was investigated by the CBI and Central Vigilance Committee.
IOA secretary Rajiv Mehta said they asked Sacheti, an associate joint secretary of the Olympic body, if he was guilty of any wrongdoing. He gave them in writing that he was innocent and the IOA accepted it. They have now decided to fund his trip, along with the 11 other IOA officials, including Sharan. Traditionally, the sports ministry pays for all contingent members. “We asked him to submit in writing what was the actual position and he gave us in writing that there was no case or investigation going on against him by the CVC. We have accepted his explanation,” Mehta said.
Mehta added the IOA did not need ministry’s clearance for sending their officials. “We have submitted a list of 202 officials from various federations to the sports ministry for clearance. We are not submitting the list of our own 12 officials, including chef de mission and four deputy chef de missions, to the ministry. They do not need clearance from the sports ministry and we are sending them to Indonesia on our cost,” he said.
Mehta was talking on the sidelines of the sendoff function, which turned into an event where federation officials lobbied for securing their spots in the contingent and IOA officials passed sarcastic remarks at sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. “We won’t get a better minister than him,” Mehta said. “When we make any proposal, he rejects it first but sanctions it when we send it again.” He then turned to the athletes, who received a microwave bowl as good luck gift from the IOA, and asked them to ‘make the most’ of Rathore’s promise of the government loosening its purse strings.
Sharan, meanwhile, said the athletes should ensure they are well-behaved at the Games. “I will be like their guardian and ensure they do not face any problems. But my target will also be to ensure the athletes are disciplined and do not indulge in activities which bring a bad name to the country,” Sharan, an accused in multiple attempt-to-murder cases and Babri Masjid demolition, said.