- The narrative of Indian sport is undergoing a transformation. For the longest time, we were sold the story that we were not genetically and otherwise predisposed to achieve at sport. Sport, it was postulated, was not part of our “culture”. We were told that this was just the way it was—that national sporting mediocrity was inevitable. First a handful, and then a flurry of our athletes, across disciplines, have now permanently demolished that myth.
- Calls for better sports governance are hardly new. In fact, the subject is one of the oldest tropes in the Indian sports narrative.
- For too long, sports federations have enjoyed absolutist powers with little accountability and have used principles of “autonomy” to deflect accountability rather than self-govern responsibly.
- Sports bodies play essential roles in the sports firmament and require autonomy and freedom from government interference are not issues for debate.
Sport in India is growing but it is an increasingly hybrid beast:
- Fed equally by social agendas and private profit-motives, it is simultaneously a national development project and an industry
- Federations have allowed private enterprise deep into their dens, with franchises “owning” teams and “buying” players, and broadcasters and sponsors becoming prominent stakeholders
- The public sector undertakings, for decades the primary (and often only) employers of sportspersons, are struggling to define their future roles—especially with their employees playing in professional leagues and turning coaches while still on government salaries
- Players have no formal representation or voice through associations or unions, and, equally, often display little accountability or restraint themselves
- The government funds most of the training and development in the country, receives limited credit when it does things right
- It is repeatedly lamented that sport was on the state list of the Constitution, compromising the ability to have a comprehensive, unified and coordinated national agenda
- But, the Constitution was written at a time when the sport was little more than a pastime or hobby and is, therefore, bunched with entertainment and amusements on the entry in the state list
Movement of sport to the concurrent list:
- Besides enabling national policies and programmes, the movement of sport to the concurrent list will enable the creation of an independent and wide-ranging national sports regulator, along the lines of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi)
- This body could oversee, in the public interest, the activities not only of national sports federations but also state federations, equally important actors in a federated governance model
- The national sports regulator could also be tasked with overseeing elections to these bodies and establishing a permanent sports tribunal that is positioned to hear and resolve sports-related disputes knowledgeably, quickly and effectively
- Worldwide, this is a governance model that has received recognition and acceptance
- It is time for Indian sports governance to step up and deliver governance to the public
- The sooner everyone realizes this, the better prepared we will all be to enable India to take her rightful place in the sun in global sport