Yeh Jo India Hai Na… yahan, let's understand WHO controls our Sports, our Sportspersons, our Sports Federations. Take a look at this list:
All India Tennis Association President – Anil Jain, BJP Rajya Sabha MP from UP.
Badminton Association of India President – Himanta Biswa Sarma, Chief Minister of Assam, BJP.
Archery Association of India President – Arjun Munda, Central Minister, BJP.
TT Association of India President – Meghna Ahlawat, wife of Dushyant Chautala, Haryana’s Deputy CM.
National Rifle Association of India President – Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo, BJD leader.
Cycling Federation of India President – Pankaj Singh, BJP Leader from UP.
Judo Association of India President – Partap Singh Bajwa, Congress Leader from Punjab.
Roller Skating Federation of India – matlab, roller-skating ko bhi nahi choda hai inhone (even roller skating hasn't been spared) – President – Tulsi Ram Agarwal, also BJP.
And of course, now the best known of them all – the Wrestling Federation of India ke 'sidelined’ President – Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh – 'Bahubali’ BJP MP from UP… accused of sexual assault by seven Indian female wrestlers, who refuses to formally step down from his post despite these grave charges, despite months of never-before protests by the India’s wrestlers… why? Because he is a ‘neta’.
And what’s the biggest problem with having ‘Netas’ as India’s sporting federation chiefs? The answer, in one word, is Accountability. Leave alone charges of sexual assault, even with day-to-day administration, awarding of commercial contracts, and team selection when 'netas’ run our sports, where is the accountability? In fact, let’s look at the ultimate yardstick in sports – performance in the field.
Politicians’ Stronghold on Indian Sports
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was India’s best performance at any Olympics, with seven medals, including one Gold, two Silver, four Bronze. And yet, we were 48th in the medals tally. In 2016, at Rio de Janeiro, our tally was just two medals – 1 Silver, 1 Bronze, and 67th in the medals tally. And let's compare our 2020 performance with similar countries – Brazil, won 21 medals in Tokyo, including seven Gold. Turkey won 13 medals. Iran won three Golds. And.. compared to India’s population of 1420 million, Jamaica with just 2.8 million people, won nine medals, including four Gold at Tokyo. So, when are we going to hold the Presidents of all our Sporting Federations accountable for all these years of poor performance? Has any head, of any federation, ever stepped down due to lack of performance? No. Have they ever been asked to? No. Will you ever be allowed to question them in the future? Not likely. Why? Because they are ‘Netas’. And when it comes to sports, we the people, surprise, surprise, have no power over them.
For a second, let’s glance at the English Premier League – it has one of the highest standards of football in the world, the most talented players want to be there, and it’s one of the richest leagues too. Do you know how many football managers lost their jobs in the 2022-23 season of EPL? 14. And.. THAT is accountability. Yeh Jo India Hai Na… yahan the Sports Federations are treated like ‘baap-dada’ ki jagirs, like personal property. Brij Bhushan Singh has been heading the Wrestling Federation since 2011. Why? Because he’s a ‘neta’. And in India, as we all know, ‘neta’ apni kursi kabhi nahi chodta.
This 'pakkad’ or grip of politicians on Indian sports is evident from the limited support that the wrestlers’ protest has gotten from other sportspersons since January. In the IPL, India’s top players faced the press several times. They were also all over social media. But no statement or gesture in support of India’s wrestlers, because they have to stay on the right side of those in charge. Speaking out could mean losing their IPL contract, or no further selection at the national, state, or even club level.
In fact, India’s 'netas’ have been smart enough to co-opt several sporting icons into their 'system’ of patronage – so from Tendulkar to Mary Kom, to PT Usha, many have all been nominated to the Rajya Sabha, making them ‘semi-netas’. And once in Parliament, some of them seem to lose their independent voice.
Tendulkar had an attendance record of just 7% during his six years in the Rajya Sabha. So absence was his strategy. PT Usha – a massive sports icon, now IOA chief and a Rajya Sabha MP nominated by BJP – did her newly acquired 'political’ status pressure her into describing the wrestlers’ protest as an act of 'indiscipline’? Many are saying yes. What about Mary Kom, who headed the Oversight Committee in Brij Bhushan Singh’s case? The committee report has been ready since early April, but has not been made public. What is Mary Kom’s take on this delay? We don’t know.
But even so, gradually, especially after how shabbily the protesting wrestlers were treated on 28 May… some sports stars have spoken up. Neeraj Chopra has tweeted in their support more than once. Sunil Chhetri, India’s football captain has tweeted in their support. So have Sania Mirza, Boxing star Nikhat Zareen, India’s former hockey captain Rani Rampal, and long-time critic of 'the system’, Abhinav Bindra. Former cricketers Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag, and Kapil Dev too have spoken up. Unfortunately.. not one of these sporting icons is actually running sport in India. Maybe they should. But that will only happen if the ‘Netas’ give up their obsession with controlling sports in India.