Projected as an outsider by the ruling camp, cricketer-turned-politician Mohammad Azharuddin on Thursday fired a salvo at Badminton Association of India president VK Verma, saying the BAI chief is not eligible for re-election and should gracefully walk after having played a "long innings".
Azhar referred to the Sports Ministry guidelines, which fix the terms of a National Sports Federation president to 12 years, and said it's time for Verma to go.
"Verma has not challenged the validity of the government guidelines in any court of law and, as such, is bound by the same and ineligible for a re-election," Azhar said from Hyderabad.
"The government guidelines are binding on all. Even an Indian Olympic Association resolution (rejecting the guidelines) cannot nullify it. It is binding on every federation. Having been a government official himself, Verma should have known it better," Azhar said.
The Ministry guidelines in question has sports administrators up in arms, claiming it is an infringement on their autonomy and the issue has now snowballed into a crisis with the International Olympic Committee set to discuss it later this month.
Verma not only refused to entertain a government observer for the election but also claimed that BAI has become self-sufficient and would no more require government funding.
In such a backdrop, Sunday's BAI election in Chennai assumes even more importance and the involvement of Azhar, a former Indian cricket captain and Congress MP from Moradabad, rendered it quite a high-profile poll for a rather low-profile federation.
The ruling camp questioned Azhar's eligibility to fight the BAI election and doesn't even consider him a serious threat either. But the former cricketer, working overtime to canvass support, promised to spring a surprise on Sunday.
"I can tell you that 30 out of the 35 voting units are aggrieved by Verma's action in his open defiance against the Government of India," said Azhar, whose seriousness to contest the election could be gauged from the fact that he cut short a parliamentary delegation's trip to Europe to return home and muster votes.
"Contrary to what others are saying, I'm optimistic about my prospects. I never harbour negative thoughts. I'm essentially a sportsman and I want to do something for badminton. I have no vested interest in BAI and all I want is to encourage the youth, do something for the youth. I don't know why people should have problems with a sportsperson wanting to join sports administration.
"Come on, I have played cricket at the highest level and have a fair idea of international sports. People don't want me in because they have seats to cling on to.
"Verma had a long innings, he should be happy with that and move on. I don't think anyone can break his record," Azhar quipped.
One of country's most successful cricket captains and elegant batsmen of his era, Azhar also questioned Verma's decision not to take government funding.
"I don't believe this self-sufficient thing. The government has been funding all their trips for so many years and now, all of a sudden, he says BAI doesn't want government money.
"Even the Olympic Charter says federations should work in harmony with the government but here the BAI president is taking on the government. I don't know how federations would survive without government support," he said.
"I want to make it clear that I have nothing personal against anyone and all I want is to do something for badminton," he said.
Asked if he is finding it a tougher battle than winning the Lok Sabha seat from Moradabad, a philosophical Azhar replied, "Everything is tough; nothing comes easy in life. You have to fight your way out and I'm doing that."