PtG Article 11.10.2010

Former athletes want to kick career politicians out of Indian sport

In India, a group of former athletes have formed a new movement with the express goal of wrestling control of India's sports clubs and federations from the grip of politicians and train former sports people to take over themselves. The group called Clean Sports India (CSI) believes it is the only way to rid Indian sports of endemic corruption and mismanagement.

Most of the founders of Clean Sports India are well-known Indian athletes who have competed at international or Olympic level. But in general, Indian athletes do not do well internationally, and according to Clean Sports India that has everything to do with bad governance of the country's sports organisations.

"Sports provides a great platform for exposure and publicity for politicians and therefore the growing trend in our country is to have many politicians managing the Indian sports federations, and some hold as many as five to six positions in various disciplines. As a result there is large-scale mismanagement, nepotism and corruption in Indian sports," Clean Sports India writes on its website. (

Politicians make a mockery of democracy

In its press kit, the organisation provides an example of the north-eastern state of Assam, where 26 major sports associations all are headed by current and former politicians. Almost none of the politicians have any background in playing sports, let alone the sport they are administrating. Two of Assam's state ministers head up 10 different Olympic sports organisations between them.

"Elections to sports bodies are manipulated by politicians, civil servants, military leaders and business men using the state power and money. Over a period of time, sports politicians have made elections in sports bodies a mockery of democracy. Most of the time they get elected unanimously as no one even dares to file a nomination," Clean Sports India wrote in a letter to IOC president, Jacques Rogge, on the day of the foundation of the organisation.

Awareness and capacity building

Clean Sports India now work on a two-tier plan to have sports organisations in India run by sports people and not politicians.

The first step is to build favourable public opinion and get sports people to join the movement by organising awareness runs, walkathons, sports exhibition matches, debates, and discussions. When enough people have joined, the plan is to train people to manage sports organisations at all levels and to strengthen their resolve and abilities to speak out against mismanagement of the sports they are involved with.

One win, one loss

Clean Sports India is still a young organisation but has already had one success. Over the summer, the group applied enough pressure to persuade an Indian minister of state for defense to back out of an election for the Equestrian Federation of India. The majority of the federation's members come from the Indian armed forces, and Clean Sports India argued that many of them would be unduly influenced to vote for a candidate who could in essence be considered their boss.

But the group was also defeated when the president of Clean Sports India, Pargat Singh, lost his bid to become president of Hockey India. Pargat Singh is a former Indian men's field hockey captain, but he lost to Vidya Stokes, an 83-year-old Congress party politician who has never played field hockey, the New York Times reports.

CSI asks IOC for support

Clean Sports India is very critical of the role played by India's Olympic Committee in the management of Indian sport. In the letter to IOC president Jacques Rogge, CSI explained that the president of India's Olympic Association, Suresh Kalmadi, has said "sports federations should be headed either by a politician or a businessman or a bureaucrat and not a former sportsman."

"Mr. Kalmadi has been head of the Indian Olympic Association for over 25 years and has played an active role in protecting and promoting the current system. He meticulously ensures that no sports person come anywhere near decision-making bodies of sports federations, not only at national level but all the way down to state bodies," the letter stated.

Clean Sports India asks the IOC president to watch the Indian sports scene carefully and not to rely only on information provided by the Indian Olympic Assocation and other national sports federations.

"They will lie to you and go to any extent to sabotage our movement. We request you to open independent channels of information so you can make better judgements in the coming years on the new era of the Indian Olympic movement," Clean Sports India says.

IOC intends to monitor situation in India

According to the Wall Street Journal, the IOC has acknowledged the receipt of the letter from Clean Sports India. A few days before receiving the letter, the IOC held a meeting with a delegation from India's Olympic Association, and according to spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau, the IOC Executive Board was very satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.

"But we will nonetheless monitor the situation to ensure that the Olympic Charter is respected in India. It is important for the IOC that all parties agree to work together with mutual respect and understanding and that the autonomy of the Olympic and sports movement is respected for the benefit of sport and the athletes in India," said Emmanuelle Moreau.