'All the government is asking for is that sports bodies be accountable for their funds'
The unstated, but ongoing, war between the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Sports Ministry is hotting up again, but Sports Minister Ajay Maken is not giving up easily.
He has revised his National Sports Development Bill, which was shot down in the Union Cabinet a few weeks ago when ministers like Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and CP Joshi were reportedly unwilling to accept its provisions, which would put the BCCI and other sports federations under the RTI scanner to make them more transparent and accountable.
While the sports minister has the support of athletes all over the country for seeking to loosen the hold of politicians on sports bodies, he has earned the wrath of many in the UPA government for proposing 70 years as the cut off age, and 12 years' tenure for any office-bearer of any sports federation, including the Indian Olympics Association.
Given the impasse in the Cabinet, the prime minister had told the sports minister to rework the Bill, and then bring it before the Cabinet. At the time, this was being seen as a virtual demise of the proposed legislation, and a setback for Maken. But the never-say-die sports minister has posted a revised version of the Bill on the website of his ministry and has been holding consultations with sporting federations across the country.
In an interview with Neerja Chowdhury, Ajay Maken strongly defended the provisions of his controversial bill, which, he says, he plans to bring before the Cabinet again in its revised version, and once it is cleared, he would introduce it in Parliament in the winter session.
People feel that in this day and age, the Sports Ministry has become an anachronism, and sports should not be shackled by government control...
Once the Bill is passed there will be no need for the Sports Ministry. Most files today before the Sports Ministry are about disputes of sports federations or requirements of sports federations. Our work would be reduced by 90 per cent..
The Bill encourages sports federations to work as autonomous private bodies with no interference in their day-to-day functioning. All that the government is asking for is that these bodies be accountable for their funds, direct or indirect.
Image: Ajay Maken
'We are also proposing things like an age limit of 70, 12 years of a tenure term'
What's going to be the fate of your Sports Bill?
It is still alive, and I am going to take it back to the Cabinet.
You have already posted it on your website?
We wrote letters to sports federations, including the BCCI, asking for their comments. That is how it is on the website. Now, we are getting their responses. There can be further modifications, on the basis of these comments, but without making changes in the basic tenets of the Bill.
It is also being said that some of the things that you are proposing in the Bill would debar Indian sportsmen from participating in the Olympics and other international sports events, like the Asian Games or Commonwealth Games?
On the contrary, the International Olympic Committee, the supreme authority of the Olympic movement, has imposed in its Charter restrictions on age and tenure on its office-bearers. We are also proposing things like an age limit of 70, 12 years of a tenure term. These are norms they [world bodies] are themselves following. How can they debar us? To have 25 per cent representation of players in the executive bodies of sports federations is something that is followed in the USA also.
There are many who feel that the role of politicians should be eliminated from Sports bodies, and that athletes should be allowed to play a greater role?
I don't say all politicians are bad, or political people should be debarred. What is wrong is politicians continuing for decades in a role. And, whether he is a politician or not, this is not good for the system.
Secondly, politicians and officials on the executive in large numbers keep sports persons marginalised. And that is also not healthy for sports. What we are proposing is that 25 percent of sports persons with voting rights should be on executive bodies and age and tenure rights will ensure that no one is there for vested interests. The players would be appointed by the Advisory Council (sought to be made mandatory for the sports federation), and not by the government or officials of the (sports) federation.
Image: Ajay Maken
'If the Sports Bill was there, we may not have had the C'wealth Games scam'
Where is the opposition to your bill, then, really coming from? Is it because the proposed Bill seeks to put the BCCI and other sports federations under the RTI? The BCCI has openly come out against being put under the RTI.
We are pressing ahead with it. They say they do not want transparency. The two interesting things to note here are that Lalit Modi is still in exile. The president of the Indian Olympics Association, Suresh Kalmadi, is in jail, and Lalit Bhanot of the athletics federation is also in jail on corruption charges.
What else do you need to prove that greater transparency is needed (in sports bodies)? You don't have to reveal your secrets to us, but you can come under the RTI. If the National Sports Development Bill had been there earlier, we may not have had the Commonwealth Games scam.
But your critics would say that it is Babudom which has killed sports in India?
I would agree with that entirely. And the Bill is towards this direction -- that there should not be any government control. They do not want the sports minister to [exercise] control. But they have no objection to other ministers -- or other senior officers -- controlling.
As far as the Sports Minister is concerned, I have proposed that he cannot be the office-bearer of any sports federation, even after he relinquishes charge. I am trying to lead by example.
Are there corporates also opposing your bill?
No corporate body is opposing it, except for those who have an interest in IPL (Indian Premier League), and wouldn't like it to come under the RTI.
What is happening in the IPL affair which created such a flutter not so long ago?
The ED is still enquiring into it. The Standing Committee on Finance, headed by Yashwant Sinha, has given a report against the IPL.
When your bill was sent back for a review, it was being said that senior ministers almost calibrated the opposition to it in the Cabinet, as if they had come prepared with a strategy to shoot it down. You are taking on the powerful in sports and politics. And many cricketers seem to be against the Bill...
That is not true. Cricketer MPs Kirti Azad and [Mohammad] Azharuddin have come out in support. I have a tough task and strong opponents. But I strongly feel what I am doing is right and in the national interest.
Image: Ajay Maken