Updated: December 29, 2016 10:45:27 am
Suresh Kalmadi’s tenure as Indian Olympic Association ‘life-president’ lasted less than 24 hours as the veteran sports administrator declined the post on Wednesday. It capped a day of hectic activity in various quarters with the present Sports Minister and one of his predecessors, as well as an influential member of the IOA, opposing the appointment of Kalmadi and the other freshly-named ‘life president’ Abhay Chautala.
The decision at the IOA AGM in Chennai on Tuesday to appoint the former presidents to the largely honorary post had elicited strong reactions with sports minister Vijay Goel, who threatened to cut off all ties with the national Olympic body. Asking for the resignation, or the removal of the two, he informed that the government had issued a show-cause notice to IOA.
Earlier in the day, former sports minister Ajay Maken targeted the BJP and its allies, saying many of their members were present at the meeting where the decision was taken, and it showed double standards of the ruling party as they used to target the UPA government with regards to various scams related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. He said IOA members such as BCCI president Anurag Thakur, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Tarlochan Singh had endorsed the two controversial appointments. It is learnt that at the Chennai meeting, Rakesh Gupta, India’s chef-de-mission for the London Olympics, had proposed the appointments, and it was accepted as there were no dissenting voices.
By afternoon, cracks had started to emerge within the IOA. The national body’s associate vice-president Narinder Batra, now the president of the International Hockey Federation, came out openly against the two appointments.
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Those within the IOA say that it was the furore over his appointment that gave Kalmadi the cold feet. In a letter to the IOA president N Ramachandran, he said, “I thank the Indian Olympic Association for conferring the honour of Lifetime President on me. However I do not feel it would be appropriate for me to accept this honour at this time. I am confident that my name will be cleared and I will defer acceptance of the honour till such time.”
BJP vs Congress
As is with most sports controversies, this too had a political hue. On Tuesday, in an almost immediate reaction after the appointment, Goel had termed the IOA decision “unacceptable” and asked for a report in this regard. On Wednesday, Maken said the minister should not just pay lip service, but take some concrete action in this regard. “The best scenario would be for the IOA office-bearers, several of whome are members of the BJP and its allies, listen to their conscience, and call an emergent working committee meeting to reverse the decision,” the senior Congress leader said.
He went on to add, “Otherwise, the sports ministry should flex its muscle as IOA cannot function even for a day without government support. The ministry should also approach the International Olympic Council to put pressure on the IOA for course-correction. The government should also support the various PILs that may come up in various courts against the IOA’s move.”
Maken also took a dig at the BJP and its allies. “They used to target the UPA government on the CWG scandal even though it was during our tenure that Kalmadi was removed as the chairman of the organising committee, charge-sheeted and even jailed. But now, under the nose of the BJP, they have been made life-presidents of the Indian Olympic Association.”
Maken also used the opportunity to talk about the Sports Bill, 2011, which he had championed. “Unfortunately, that bill was not passed by the Cabinet. The bill debarred public functionaries from taking up posts in sports bodies, and would have prevented such controversies.”
Life-presidents have no executive or voting powers, but Maken said the mere presence of Kalmadi and Chautala at meetings will ensure they have their way even now and run the IOA affairs by proxy. “Nobody would dare go against their wishes and the two will continue to run the IOA affairs by proxy. These days, when most decisions by a sports body have monetary aspects, it is not right to have people charged with corruption.”
Goel said the government respected the autonomy of sports organisations, but also wants total good governance, transparency and accountability in such bodies. “Till Kalmadi and Chautala either resign or are removed, we will have no association with the IOA,” the sports minister said. “Chautala and Lalit Bhanot were the individuals whose appointment as IOA president and secretary resulted in IOC suspending the body.”
Batra, former Hockey India president, said he was not invited for the meeting despite being an IOA associate vice-president. “I’m not aware what was the thinking behind the decision, but am not in favour of it. At a time, when the BCCI is facing the ire of the Supreme Court, we did not need another controversy. When we approach sponsors, they point to such incidents which do not show us in good light,” Batra said. “The present IOA constitution does not allow anyone who has been charge-sheeted for any offence under IPC or CrPC that invites a suspension of two years or more to hold any post. Chautala himself did not contest the polls after the constitution was amended. I don’t know what has changed now.”
Some in the IOA have argued that there is a tradition of former presidents to be made life-presidents, but Batra said that was not the case.
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