The recent rejection of the proposed National Sports Development Bill, 2011 by the cabinet clearly highlights the fact that sports and government are difficult to mix in India
We, the people of India should not feel sorry to say that sporting in India is in abysmal state. There are many reasons to feel shameful about sports in India. Sports is an area where we manage to bring the world’s attention to our country’s tragic ignominy of possessing one sixth of the world’s population but failing to acquire a decent position in the medals’ tally. It is an irony that ever since India participated in the Olympics, it has won 20 medals in all (9 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze). This total includes only one gold medal that can be attributed to an individual’s effort. Two silver medals were won by Norman Pritchard, who was modern India’s first representative in the 1900 Olympics. International committees attribute Norman’s medals to Great Britain and India’s Olympic Committee has no qualms in claiming that they belong to us. China, with whom we eagerly compare ourselves in every field, won 100 medals just in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Over half of these were gold. Today, sport in India means cricket. And we also have fanatic football ‘fans’ who track the English Premier League as if their lives depended on it. Although Indian sports men and women have performed beyond our conventional expectations, such instances have been far and few. If we compare India with the USA, Australia and China India fails to stand anywhere near to these nations in development and regulation of sports. Take for example the United States, it has its Universities for promotion of sports and sporting talent while China has its own State sponsors sports schools. This is the very basic reason of high class sporting nourishment in these nations while we lack behind drastically. We only loath to bracket India with these sporting behemoths, but to be the best the juxtaposition has to be with the best. If we take for a simple example the development and promotion of cricketing talent in India, we will notice that India’s most well-known and successful system through which world cricketing talent find their way to national team is through domestic cricket order. Yet the BCCI, the highest governing body of national cricket in India as well as most other sport associations in India have little to do with any of our domestic sporting events. Almost all of these bodies are headed by politicians and have little or no transparency in their dealings. Powerful chieftains boss these organizations for decades together and ensure that free and fair elections do not occur.
Sports Development Bill 2011: Seeing the low level of sports regulation in India, the need and importance of the National Sports development bill becomes manifold. Further the humongous blob of corruption created by the 2010 Commonwealth games has made it compulsory to regulate the sporting bodies in India by the government. One of the key provisions of the draft bill is to bring all sports federations including the BCCI under the aegis of the RTI. It also includes retirement age of 70 and a limited number of terms for officials heading them. Let us look at some of the salient features of the draft Sports Development Bill 2011:
- The bill seeks to make 70 years as age limit for the retirement of members of the National Sports Federation and inclusion of athletes in the decision making process. Further it aims to make it mandatory that 25 per cent of the membership and voting powers is held by the athletes and put restrictions on the terms of office bearers to two terms of four years each.
- The voice and representation of an Athlete/Sportsperson has been missing in the top echelons of sports governance in India. This bill seeks to make correct this anomaly and under the bill an effort has been made to constitute a National Sports Development Council which is to be headed by an Eminent Athlete (a sportsperson who has been conferred with national or international awards).
- The bill seeks to make the National Olympic Committee responsible for the conduct of the National Games every 2 years. Further, NOC has been obligated to hold fair and transparent election every 4 years.
- The bill also aims to establish an effective dispute resolution mechanism to tackle sports disputes. The bill aims to set up an office of the Sports Ombudsman. All awards of the Sports Ombudsman and Appellate Authority are to be binding as Final Awards under Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996.
- The bill also deals with the issue of foreign nationals representing India at national and international level. The bill states that only Indian passport holders and NRI’s can represent India, thus it restricts PIOs and OCIs from representing India.
- The bill also tries to effectively control the cases of doping in sports. It has devoted an entire chapter to deal with anti-doping and drug free sport. It seeks establishment of National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) and National Anti-Doping Laboratory.
- Another major provision under the draft bill is that it clearly says that the tenure of the members of the National Sports Development Council would be restricted to 4 years and that the members shall not be eligible for re-appointment. This recommendation would promote new voices regularly in sports fraternity in India.
- The draft is true to the core principles spelt out in the “Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance” proposed by the International Olympic Committee and endorsed by the Olympic Congress, it proposed to effectively deal with the cases of sexual harassment of women and child abuse in sports.
The Significance of the Bill in Indian Context: India is a youth nation and the youth of the nation are engaged in various sporting activities. But the irony is that our nation lacks adequate sport laws to regulate the sports as well as the sporting institutions. Further the Sports Authority of India is doing very little to help the cause. Given such an abysmal background of sporting regulation in India, the importance of the proposed National Sports development bill becomes manifolds. We need an effective mechanism in place, even if it is a self-regulatory body because we know the fact that neither a government body alone keeps a check nor a private body. We need a statutory body which is autonomous and keep the sports federation in check. The importance of the Sports bill lies in the fact that is will bring enhanced transparency and good governance in sports laws in India. Another significant suggestion made in the draft bill is the setting up of the National Anti-doping law in compliance with WADA. The draft bill also makes room for sufficient clauses for checking sexual harassment of sportswoman at workplace. The aim of the bill is to reform the present system and the way sports are run in the nation. The new bill will do the needful to bring reforms in sports. In addition to development of infrastructure in the country the bill also encourages development of sporting culture in India, because infrastructure alone can’t fetch medals for India, it needs a healthy mix of infrastructure as well as sporting attitude among the youth of the nation. Another most important proposal of the draft bill is that it mulls setting up a National Institute of Sports Science in the country because nowadays scientific backing is essential to excel in sports. Thus it can affirmatively be said that the National Sports Development Bill 2011 has been formulated to celebrate the spirit of sport and fair play, imbibed the philosophy of Olympism. The bill is not intend to transgress into the independence of the NSFs and the National Olympic Committee, but only seeks to imbibe the practice of good governance. It will also address the public concern of accountability of NSFs (National Sports Federations) as the bill seeks to recognize the federations as bodies performing public functions. The bill is significant as is address the issues of sexual harassment, age fraud, impediments to Right to Information, speedy resolution of sports disputes, anti-doping transparency and good governance.
Cabinet Rejects Sports Bill: What went wrong with the bill? It must seem naïve on part of the Union Sports Minister to believe that the cabinet will clear his draft National Sports Development Bill considering so many ministers are office bearers of various federations. There are several silly things that politicians are known to do, but shooting themselves willingly in the foot is surely not one of them. Consider just cricket. Senior politicians and cabinet members who are involved in the administration of this sport include Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel, Arun Jaitley, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Vilasrao Deshmukh and Farooq Abdullah, among others. They may cut across party lines, but cricket is the glue which binds any ideological divide by the power it commands in the country. This is the major reason why the bill was disapproved by the cabinet. The intent behind the Sports Bill is commendable. It’s clearly a good faith effort on the part of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to try and clean up the sports domain. But it needs to undergo more than just cosmetic surgery in order for it to be accepted and passed by the government. The major problem with the bill is that it is less compatible with the international standards and India also lacks the track record in sports to be able to effectively implement a blanket sports development bill on a national scale. Another prominent omission of the bill is that it deals mainly with regulating and structuring the NSFs, without looking considerably into matters of business of sports in general. In lines with global standards, sports in our country also require private sector investment and also professional management, the bill fails to say anything on these lines. These are some of the issues with the draft bill, though the bill addresses most of the concern of sporting regulation in our country if definitely fails to address some areas that go even untouched. It is hoped that when the bill comes for the consideration again, it fulfils all the untouched agendas and wins the required support of the house.
It is hardly surprising that the Union cabinet has spiked the National Sports Development Bill. It is an open secret that sporting bodies-sports federations-are in the grip of powerful politicians. Patronage and influence peddling are quite normal. This should not be so. Fixed tenures for chiefs, age limits for those at the helm and careful oversight over the administration and finances of these bodies are essential if India is to make any headway as a sporting nation. In any case, a serious dose of transparency in the functioning of the federations is called for. It was the possibility of these very provisions coming into force-if the Bill was ever to become a law-that sparked a furious response to it. India does not lack enthusiasm on the part of sportspersons. It is the administration of sport that lets the country down. Fix that and there will be no dearth of medals at the Olympics.