PtG Article 02.05.2008

Indian Hockey Federation suspended after bribery scandal

The Indian Hockey Federation has been suspended by the Indian Olympic Association after allegations surfaced that the federation’s general secretary, Kandaswamy Jothikumaran, accepted a bribe to select a certain player for the national team.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) took the decision to suspend the federation after an emergency meeting of the organisation, which included current head, Kanwar Pal Singh Gill.

“It is a painful, but necessary step to ensure Indian hockey gets back on track,” said IOA president Suresh Kalmadi at a press conference after the meeting, reports news agency Agence France Presse.

“We are committed to the autonomy of sports federations but we could also not keep silent over the falling standards and allegations of corruption,” he continued.

The IOA is permitted to intervene in the affairs of member federations under certain circumstances according to the constitution of the association.

In response to the corruption allegations, as well as growing dissatisfaction in the media, sporting and political communities about the performance of the federation, the IOA has now appointed a five-member panel of former players to run the affairs of the federation until a permanent solution is reached.

Caught on camera

Jothikumaran was caught on camera in a sting operation by journalists working for the Aaj Tak television channel, allegedly accepting a bribe from undercover reporters to select a certain player for an upcoming tournament in Malaysia. He is filmed receiving a payment of 500,000 rupees (8000 euros) from the journalists.

Jothikumaran denies the allegations, claiming that he thought the money was to be used for the preparation of an international hockey tournament in India.

“I was genuinely under the impression that a proposal for conducting a big tournament on the lines of Azlan Shah Cup was being debated with me by the reporters. At no point of time did I mention anything about selection,” Jothikumaran said in a statement.

However, an IHF insider claimed that the revelations were no surprise to them, and in fact even denied the existence of the tournament Jothikumaran alluded to. The insider, a member of the IHF executive committee speaking under the condition of anonymity, told the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) that breaches of constitutional authority were widespread within the federation.

“How can he even make such a claim?” he told IANS referring to Jothikumaran’s assertion that the payment he received was for the preparation of a hockey tournament. “You cannot simply announce a tournament and receive funds even before the executive committee clears the proposal.”

“There has been no such proposal for a tournament and even if Jothikumaran is speaking the truth, he is still contravening the IHF constitution,” he continued.

“The point is that we have no issues on who heads the IHF so long as he functions as per the constitution. So far, the administration has flouted virtually every rule in the book. We are hoping that with Jothikumaran's resignation, we will have fresh elections so that a new body takes over.”

International pressure

The IOA is believed to have come under pressure from the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to act to stop the rot in Indian hockey.

It is reported that FIH chief Els van Breda Vriesman suggested that the FIH would be unable to work with the Indian Hockey Federation to stage the 2010 World Cup and a hockey promotion project in India while the corruption allegations hung over the IHF.

Prior to the IOA emergency meeting to discuss the bribe scandal, Vriesman told the IOA and the Indian Sports Ministry that it was down to them to handle the situation, reports the Press Trust of India. 

Indian hockey in turmoil

The standing of Indian hockey, the country’s national sport, is at an all-time low. IHF chief Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, has been under intense pressure to step down after the poor performance of both the men’s and women’s team, which both failed to qualify for the Olympic Games this summer in Beijing.

The failure of the men’s team to qualify was regarded by many as a national embarrassment. The team had not failed to qualify for the Olympics for 80 years, and in that time had secured eight gold medals.

The anger felt after failure to qualify was further accentuated by the corruption scandal, and the new federal sports minister Manohar Singh Gill called for the IHF chief to step down and let someone else have a chance to revive Indian hockey.

“I have agonised long over the IHF,” the sports minister had said in a statement, reports Agence France Presse. “I believe the IHF President must also introspect and review his position. It is time to let other Indians make an attempt to lift our hockey.”

His predecessor, Mani Shanker Aiyar, had come under intense pressure from the Indian opposition in parliament to step down following the national team’s failure to qualify for the Olympics.

Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, a former top policeman, has sat at the head of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) since 1994. He was present at the IOA press conference and meeting where the decision was taken to suspend the federation, but did not make any comment on the situation.

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