By Hita M. Agarwal, WBNUJS, Kolkata.
Last week, the Government of India constituted the All India Council of Sports, which is to act as an advisory body to the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. In a release by the Sports Ministry, the nature of the advice to be given by the body was further clarified as ‘the advice rendered by the council will be duly considered by the government, [but] it will not be binding and obligatory on the government.’
The Council is to be headed by a President, appointed by the Government, who will hold a rank equal to that of Minister of State. It is to consist of four other ex – officio members, who are to be appointed from the Parliament, sports personalities, coaches, sports experts, sports administrators, the Director General of Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Director General of National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), officials from the Sports Ministry, representatives from national sports federations, Indian Olympic Association (IOA), corporate bodies and non–governmental organisations. These members are also to be appointed by the central administration.
The Council may meet as frequently as it desires, but it must meet at least once every three months. Its main agenda is to consider matters relating to the promotion and development of sports and games in India. In furtherance of this objective, it may organize national and international conferences, seminars, symposia etc.
The body’s detailed objectives include popularizing sports amongst the youth as a way of life; increasing outreach of sports in rural and tribal areas, areas affected by Left-wing extremism, North-East and Jammu & Kashmir; implementation of policies for promotion of sports and games in the country; deliberating on matters relating to promotion of inclusiveness in sports with special focus on women, the differently-abled and tribals; preventing drug abuse, fraud of age and sexual harassment of women in sports; bringing professionalism, transparency and good governance in functioning of national sports federations; coming up with ways and means to raise resources for the promotion of sports and games in the country; promotion of sports sciences and sports medicine; improving sports infrastructure and ensuring its proper utilization; considering matters relating to participation and performance of sportspersons and teams in international sporting events; dealing with issues arising out of match fixing and other malpractices in competitive sports; framing ways and means to promote indigenous games in the country; encouraging early identification of sports talent and nurturing of the identified talent and; integration of sports in educational curriculum in schools, colleges and universities. Moreover, its advice may be sought on issues and matters specifically referred to it by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports.
The formation of the Council comes at a time when the Indian sports scenario is plagued with problems and allegations of corrupt administration, perpetuation of gender biases and stereotypes and inadequate and sub–standard sports facilities. Squash World No. 18, Dipika Pallikal’s refusal to participate in the National Squash Championship due to the unequal prize money in the Men’s and Women’s divisions; the recent judgement on the IPL scandal; the infamous Commonwealth Game scandal; the Vijender Singh doping scandal and; the Indian Olympic Association’s suspension by the International Olympic Committee are only but glimpses of the many spheres in which the Indian sports fraternity needs to step back and analyse its failings.
The body, in a unique step, has attempted to incorporate sportspersons and coaches into the decision and policymaking process. In a highly reformist move, the fact that gender stereotypes and biases exist among sports has been taken cognizance of. By taking into its mandate upcoming ancillary sports occupations, such as sports medicine, the body is providing promotion and recognition to their role.
As noble and progressive the idea behind this new body is, its structure still poses some problems. Firstly, it is important to note that most sports regulatory bodies – such as Sports Authority of India, Hockey India, Indian Olympic Association and Athletics Federation of India to name a few, are under the control or directly affiliated to the Government of India, and hardly ever work free of political fear or favour. With the AICS also under the control of the Union Administration, the scope for fairness, especially when dealing with allegations of corruption, is very unlikely.
Adding onto the problem posed above is the fact that there is no ‘quota’ or fixed number of sportspersons or coaches that have to be incorporated into the body. This may decrease the chances of representation of problems faced by players, the most important stakeholders in a sport, themselves. Alternatively, even if players or coaches are made members of the Council through a quota, it is impossible for the interest of every sport to be represented before the body. This must be viewed in light of the fact that sports such as luge, which are uncommon and have limited competitive representation and advantage, may be ignored all together.
Moreover, the hierarchy of multiple sports regulatory bodies, with mere ‘advisory’ power will serve to be problematic. Who is to decide and formulate this hierarchy, and whether it will be enforced in all instances is unclear. More oft than not, multiple levels of subjugation hardly ever lead to the deliverance of real benefit to those who need it the most .It is also not necessary that the vision of the Council will align with that of individual sports governing bodies. In this case, which opinion will override the other is a question that may be answered only by example.
The lack of financial clarity may become one of the most pertinent issues to plague the Council. It is important to realize that most sports in India are unable to achieve their full potential because of lack of good infrastructure and facilities – something that can only be rectified by the inflow of monetary resources. As the financial independence of the body is unclear, it may be hard for it to enforce and implement the ideas and policies it envisions.
While the All India Council of Sports is one of the forward – looking steps in the history of sports governance in India, its structure and power need more thought and elaboration. Currently, all one knows about is the objectives it seeks to achieve. Without the specific means it may use to do so, the AICS may turn into a body with all show, and no sport.