Narinder Batra has never been shy of speaking his mind, be it his refusal to allow bilateral hockey series against Pakistan, or his displeasure when the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) appointed the tainted Suresh Kalmadi and Abhay Singh Chautala as life presidents. On Thursday, after being chosen IOA president in a formality of an election, Batra also spelt out his personal desire to host major multi-discipline sporting events in the country.
Batra’s appointment, for a four-year period, however, is subject to the final verdict of the Delhi High Court in a case challenging the legality of the election. Batra, who is also the president of the International Hockey Federation, was not part of the IOA Executive Council and was not eligible to stand for the post, before a constitutional amendment allowed him to do so.
India has not hosted a major multi-discipline sporting event since the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which was plagued by delays and allegations of financial mismanagement and bungling. “I believe in thinking big. I want India to bid for big events once again, such as the 2026 Commonwealth Games, 2030 Asian Games and the 2032 Olympics. It is my personal opinion as of now, and I have to gauge what the other members of the IOA and the government think about this matter,” Batra, who prevailed 142-13 over former All India Tennis Association president Anil Khanna in the election said.
Khanna had ‘withdrawn’ from the contest citing desire to have a united IOA, but since he did so after December 3, the last date for withdrawal of nomination papers, there was an election for the post.
The election of incumbent Rajeev Mehta as secretary general was also a foregone conclusion as there was no other candidate for the post. RK Anand beat Janardhan Gehlot 96-60 for the position of senior vice-president, while Anandeshwar Pandey defeated RK Gupta 113-37 to be the IOA treasurer at an annual general meting in the capital.
The polls were supervised by a three-member Election Commission. SK Mendiratta, a legal advisor to the Election Commission of India, functioned as the returning officer. Another item which seems high on Batra’s agenda is maintaining cordial relations with the government.
“The IOA cannot function without the government, but the government should also appreciate that IOA is an autonomous body. There is a thin line which needs to be recognised for good relations,” he said. “We want to work with the government in a conducive atmosphere. They should try to know our views and we will also try to know their views.”
As far as India’s sporting achievements on the international stage are concerned, Batra said he wanted to increase India’s medal haul at the various big events. “It will be my goal to improve India’s medal-winning capability, and address any issues the sportspersons face in this regard.”
He stuck to his hard line on sporting ties with Pakistan. “As far as global events are concerned, we have to play Pakistan. Pakistani sportspersons participated in the Asian Athletics Championship in Bhubaneswar a few months ago. But I am personally not in favour of having bilateral sporting ties with Pakistan till the relations between the two countries improve. The situation on the border also needs to get better in this regard,” Batra said.
Over the last few days, there had been hectic parleys in IOA circles to avoid any major contests in the election. As a result, the ‘final’ list of office-bearers was freely available at the IOA Olympic Bhawan even as the polls were being held inside. “There were meetings yesterday over lunch and dinner yesterday, where Kalmadi was also present,” a source said.
Former IOA secretary general Lalit Bhanot, charged in the 2010 CWG scam, also visited the election venue after the voting had finished.
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