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Sports Bill Raises Storm:FEDERATIONS MUST BE ACCOUNTABLE, by Dr.S. Saraswathi, 21 Sept, 2011 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 21 September 2011

Sports Bill Raises Storm


By Dr.S. Saraswathi

(Ex Director, ICSSR)


The Sports Ministry’s draft Bill on Sports Development formulated with the avowed object of bringing more accountability and transparency in the functioning of the sports bodies was rejected by the Union Cabinet. According to the Sports Minister, the Bill is intended to benefit sports and sports-persons and to create an atmosphere conducive to the promotion of sports in the country.


Though the object is laudable, some of the clauses in the Bill were unacceptable to politicians involved in sports.  The important clauses include bringing sports federations under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, making it mandatory to include sports-persons in the executive boards of various federations up to 25 per cent of the total members, fixing an upper age limit for boards’ members and submitting long-term development plans of the federations to the Ministry.


There are about 200 sports federations in the country working as independent and autonomous bodies.  They receive no specific grants, but the Ministry has a programme of providing financial assistance for various purposes like sending teams abroad for training, participation in international tournaments, holding international tournaments, purchasing sports equipments, engaging foreign coaches etc.  The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the richest among the federations, however, is not taking any financial assistance


Pertinently, all sports bodies avail the facilities like stadiums et al provided by the State Governments.  They also get tax concessions, land at concessional rate for construction of stadiums. The players trained and selected by the federations participate in international events where they represent the country and not their respective federations.  This very fact makes the function of these federations a public matter and not private and hence accountable to the people.


In addition, sports come under the State List in the distribution of powers under the Constitution.  At the Centre, the Sports Department was created in 1982 as part of the Education Ministry and was made a   full-fledged Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in 2000.  Also, a National Sports Policy was adopted in 1984 on the eve of the Asian Games and this was re-formulated in 2001 with the twin objective of promoting excellence and widening the sport base.


Importantly, this policy has expressly recognised that the management and development of sports are functions of the Indian Olympic Association and the National Sports Federations, and has stated that they have to “demonstrate orientation towards achievement of results and ensure tangible progress in the field of sports.”  Keeping this in view, the policy envisages framing model bye-laws and organisational structures in consultation with the federations and with due regard to the Olympic Charter so as to “make the functioning of the federations/associations transparent, professional, and accountable.”


It is, therefore, necessary to remind ourselves that transparency and accountability in the sports federations are not any new concepts introduced by the present Ministry, but are the accepted national policy for over a decade. Indeed, what is significant is that while the 1984 policy merely mentions encouragement to sports bodies, the need for specific talk about transparency and accountability arose by 2000. 


Clearly, the rejected Bill of 2011 seeks to implement only an accepted policy prescription.  Vetoed by Ministers who double up as active members of sports federations. It is also argued that only organiations funded by various State Governments should be brought under the RTI Act and made accountable, and that those federations not getting any aid, particularly the BCCI, should remain fully autonomous and cannot be made accountable to the public for its accounts or earnings. 


Significantly, this is a misnomer. As in reality, no sports body in India lives in isolation without the support of the Government and the public.   Recall, in a litigation in 2005 the Supreme Court had observed that the functions performed by autonomous sporting bodies are in the nature of public functions which raise wide public interest, and therefore, fall in the ambit of writ jurisdiction of the High Courts under Article 226 of the Constitution. 


True, it can be argued that sports federations need to have freedom in conducting sports as an expert body.  But, when players play for the country in international tournaments this freedom cannot obviously be absolute. It must be subject to rules and procedures laid down by the Government in important matters like selection of players, as such competitions are matters of the country’s international interests and thus, fall under entries 10 and 13 of Union List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.  Hence, it seems impracticable to fully privatise sports bodies as demanded by some sports organisations.


In fact, in many countries sports bodies are increasingly coming under judicial supervision and losing their autonomy gradually. While sports and games should be free to frame and administer their laws and rules, sports federations have to be subject to some Government, that is, public control.


Needless to say, the scope of sports, particularly spectator sports is expanding.  Today, some sports provide entertainment (cricket’s Indian Premier League, IPL) for many it is a commercial venture; not a few promotes tourism (the F1 racing spectacle in Greater Noida next month) for others it is either an industry; has a role to play in international relations; part of education and it has special medical needs.  As such, sports’ power and popularity are immense.  This increases the responsibility of the authorities managing sports and sports-related functions.


Bluntly, there is neither institution nor a function that is beyond the scope of social accountability.  Even family life and home management come under social regulation.  However, it must be admitted that Government control is not always a remedy for mal-administration or a guarantee for good governance.  In this age of privatisation, enforcing Government control over sports bodies sounds anomalous.  Nor is it the object of the draft sports Bill that stands rejected.   


Undoubtedly, what is needed is popular vigilance which is possible only when information is accessible and available and all transactions and functioning are transparent.  Arguably, there can be no reasonable objections to this, as transparency will free sports management from vested interests and prevent emergence and  consolidation of sports empires and  growth of sports politics.  Remember, spectator sports thrive on popular interest and the public must have the right to information. ---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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