In an unprecedented development, the sports ministry withdrew the annual recognition of all National Sports Federations (NSFs) on Thursday following a Delhi High Court diktat on the matter. The decision comes on the back of a decade-long court case in relation to governance issues within the federations.
Earlier this month, the sports ministry had extended the federations’ recognition until September 30, 2020. However, they were forced to reverse the order. In a letter to all 54 federations, sports ministry deputy secretary SPS Tomar wrote: “… in compliance of the Order dated 24.06.2020 passed by the Hon’ble Delhi High Court…, the Department’s letter of even number dated 02.06.2020 granting provisional annual recognition of 54 NSFs stands withdrawn.”
The decision means the suspension of three federations — Indian Golf Union, School Games Federations of India and Rowing Federation of India — will continue. A sports ministry official said they will file a fresh application before the bench and ‘sort out the crisis at the earliest.’
The annual recognition is granted to the federations in January each year. According to those in the know, the process took longer than usual this year because of some details sought by the ministry from the federations. Before it could be concluded, the pandemic struck and a lockdown was imposed. “To make sure the operations remained smooth, the ministry extended the provisional recognition till September,” a source said.
The process to grant provisional recognition, according to lawyer and activist Rahul Mehra, was ‘in violation of sports code’. He alleged that “the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was trying to derecognise a lot of sports federations and simultaneously create parallel bodies while the sports ministry played ball.”
“The IOA’s modus operandi is they write a letter to the international federation of a particular sport, bring up certain disputes and piggy-backing on that, they call for the creation of a new body,” Mehra said, adding there were around five instances where this sequence ocurred. He accused IOA office-bearers of indulging in this “to create a suitable vote bank”. “The ministry was not stopping them. When I brought this to the notice of the court, an order was passed in which one para said if the ministry and IOA seek to take any decision with regard to NSFs, they will file the material before the court and subsequently take the decision,” Mehra said. The ministry was forced to withdraw the recognition because it had done so without informing the court in advance.
IOA president Narinder Batra, meanwhile, denied there was any wrongdoing on the IOA’s part. “I am all for good governance. The government does not give any federation a single paisa. All the funding is directly credited in the accounts of concerned parties. Please show us where are governance issues,” Batra said.
The Delhi High Court’s order could have far-ranging impact on the way Indian sport is run.
In normal times, the decision to withdraw recognition of all federations would have created a highly complex scenario for India’s Olympic sports and athletes. The government is supposed to grant funding and permissions for national camps and international tournaments only to sports bodies it recognises.
Owing to the pandemic, there are no training camps currently underway apart from weightlifting and athletics while participation in international tournaments is out of the question until global sport, and travel, resumes.
A federation official, however, expressed concern that Thursday’s development could delay the resumption of their activities. “We had shared with the sports ministry our plan to resume the national camps in phases July onwards. However, we do not know if we will be eligible for funding for the same,” the official said. The government and the Indian Olympic Association are also perplexed with the court’s order that they will first have to inform the bench about any decision taken in relation to the NSFs before implementing it.
The IOA is concerned that this could be construed as ‘interference’ by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which would be a violation of its charter. “We will accept and honour the court’s order. But my only fear is whether this leads to a suspension from the IOC. If you have to take permission for everything, then the autonomy goes away,” Batra said. “In 2012, when the IOC suspended India, one of the reasons was interference in IOA’s functioning.”
What does this decision mean?
Granting recognition to sports federations is an annual ritual that makes them eligible for government funds as well as assistance for training and competition. In the absence of recognition, the process does not necessarily come to a halt but rather becomes a lot more cumbersome.
The Delhi High Court, however, has said IOA and ministry cannot take any decisions in relation to the unrecognised sports federations without its prior consent.
However, with the ongoing pandemic forcing sporting lockdown of sorts, the impact of the court decision will be minimal. But once the sports resume and preparation of the Olympics gets underway, the present stand-off could delay administrative decisions and that in turn can hamper the training of athletes.
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