Term-limit rule has India’s sports chiefs stewingNEW DELHI - India’s sports chiefs are locked in a public spat with the government over a new ruling to limit their tenure, causing ructions in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in October.
At the center of the row is a sports ministry diktat that presidents of sports federations, including the Indian Olympic Association, cannot remain in their posts for more than 12 years or beyond the age of 70.
The order has rattled politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats who have headed sports federations for decades and turned them into their personal fiefdoms.
Sixty-six-year-old Suresh Kalmadi, a high-profile lawmaker from the ruling Congress party and chairman of the Games organizing committee, has served as IOA president for 14 years since 1996.
Among numerous other “offenders” are opposition lawmaker Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who has led the country’s archery federation for 31 years, and former sports minister Sukhdev Dhindsa, who has presided over cycling for 14 years.
Current sports minister Manohar Singh Gill’s tough stand has riled Kalmadi and others, but won praise from the media and former sportsmen who say the move was long overdue.
Kalmadi slammed the ruling as “draconian” and an “assault on the autonomy of the federations.” Malhotra called it a “ridiculous decision” which made no sense.
“People have served in parliament for 30 years, many of our ministers are above 70, so why this rule only for sports officials?” he asked.
IOA secretary general Randhir Singh, a member of the International Olympic Committee, said the order was a “violation” of the Olympic charter and could lead to sanctions from the governing body.
“Any restriction in the tenure of the office bearers and fixing age limits may amount to interference with the internal functioning of the National Olympic Committees,” Singh told reporters, quoting a letter from the IOC.
The sports minister said the uproar over his regulations was not justified.
“We studied the IOC regulation and they require their president to have a 12-year term in total, no more, and to retire at 70,” Gill told the Press Trust of India.
“I guess the current protest is frankly because my friends want unlimited tenures which don’t exist even in the most major sports federations in the world.”
The Times of India rallied behind Gill, saying long-serving officials must quit.
“The cries of outrage from those who have indefinitely held onto top positions in our sports bodies for extended periods with almost nothing to show for their long years in power - are completely unwarranted,” the newspaper wrote.
“If they genuinely wished well for the sports they claim to champion, they would have quit much earlier, without having to be coerced into doing so.
“The least they can do is to give up now.”
The ministry order allows officials to complete their current tenures - Kalmadi’s term as IOA president ends in 2012 - to ensure there is no break in preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
But analysts believe the row is certain to pull down the already sluggish preparations for the October 3-14 Games in New Delhi.
“When big guns fight, the ripple effect is felt everywhere,” said journalist Ayaz Memon. “Kalmadi and company will be better off concentrating on the Games.”
Former sportsmen such as athlete Milkha Singh welcomed the regulations.
“It is a step in the right direction,” said Singh. “It will lead to better people joining the federations and that can only be good for sports.”