Leaders reveal feet of clay as convulsions hit top sports bodies (2015 In Retrospect)

Neew Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) The world of sport is in for a major upheaval in the New Year. The two universally popular events, football and athletics, and the most liked sport in the Commonwealth countries, cricket, are going through convulsions as the year is about to ring out.

Had anyone thought at the beginning of the year that the two most powerful men of football, Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini would be in the doghouse by the year-end? Or that Lord Sebastian Coe, chief of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) chief would have a dark shadow looming over him on the sensational doping controversy involving Russian athletes? No.

In India, the cricket board, which literally runs the sport worldwide, is facing serious trouble if the leaked sweeping changes recommended by the Supreme Court appointed Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee to cleanse the sport’s administration are true.

Yes, Blatter’s mischief as FIFA chief was all too well known but everyone thought his departure would bring some sanity. Platini, who in normal circumstances would have succeeded Blatter, had an angelic reputation on football turf as a French international player before he was caught up in the corruption tangle.

Both have been found guilty and slapped eight-year bans. Both are disappointed. Blatter, 79, vows to fight back and hopes Platini, 60, does likewise. The Frenchman sees his ban as a conspiracy to stop him from becoming the FIFA chief, though he doesn’t deny getting paid a shopping $2 million for supporting Blatter’s re-election in 2011 against Mohammad Bin Hammam in a no-holds-barred election.

Both have been fined heftily by the FIFA Ethics Commission judge, Platini 80,000 Swiss Francs and Blatter 50,000, and both have been banned from all football activity.

Blatter was in any case promised to step down on February 26, paving the way for the election of a new president, though he was elected for a fifth term in May, barely a couple of days after American and Swiss timed to reveal their investigations of bribery and corruption in FIFA.

Like the scandalous happenings in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) surfaced when allegations of bribery to win the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, U.S., there were whispers of scam at the time of the allotment of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the next one to the desert nation Qatar in 2022 by FIFA. Now it transpires both Blatter and Platini were in cahoots in making these decisions.

Coe, like Platini, was an athlete of repute and has scrupulously built up his reputation over the years, both as an athlete and sports administrator. His crowning moment came when he piloted the 2012 Olympic Games, first in getting London the right to host the Games and then getting a pat for conducting it to everyone’s satisfaction.

Coe may not be in as serious a trouble as his Swiss or French friends are, but his status has been dented, more so after a leaked email dragged his close confidant stating that he had the knowledge of the number of doping cases involving Russian athletes ahead of the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and how an attempt was made to withhold the names till the event was over.

Nick Davies, the man close to Coe, and the deputy general secretary of the IAAF, even stated that the world body might use the good offices of Coe’s PR agency to prevail upon the British media not to attack the Russian athletes.

The IAAF council at its meeting last month overwhelmingly voted to suspend the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) and Coe spoke in anguish that the “whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world”, and saw it as a wake-up call.

The IAAF Athletes Commission quickly expressed its disappointment, but the fact remains the athletes themselves will have to find a way out of this morass. There is no point in sending out a message to “clean athletes in a dirty system to report any doping or cheating that they see or hear about”.

The system has to find a way out to help clean athletes from Russia to take part in the Olympics, at least. As it happened in the past, the IOC might consider allowing individual Russian athletes to take part in the Rio Olympics.

As for cricket, the reported changes the Lodha Committee is expected to make may look idealistic, but may come in for stiff resistance from some of the high-profile administrators of the game. A couple of the recommendations, like barring politicians and bureaucrats from holding posts in sports bodies, could not be implemented because of the stiff resistance from the incumbent chiefs.

When Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister he was serious about pulling out all his ministers from sports bodies. But the bureaucrats revolted and the plan was scuttled. In fact, more than one board president was installed at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for different reasons, some political, some administrative and some others purely to prevent political opponents from grabbing it.

The board should go back to its old system of a three-year term for the president and a five-year term for the secretary for the sake of continuation. It worked fairly well for decades before ambitious men like Jagmohan Dalmiya and Narayanaswamy Srinivasan wanted to perpetuate their hegemony by amending the constitution, scrapping the restriction on one term when even big-time politicians like N.K.P. Salve, Madhavrao Scindia and Sharad Pawar, never tried to do that even when they were in a position to do so.

The board may not accept the age restriction just as some of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) members opposed it when the government tried to ram it down their throats. Vijay Kumar Malhotra, now chairman of the revived All India Council of Sports (AICS), questioned the sense behind fixing age when there is no age restriction for politicians and ministers.

It is going to be a long-drawn-out battle and the Lodha committee will get to know a thing or two from the trial balloon it let off before finalising the actual report.

(This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was for a variety of subjects, running up to the New Year. Veturi Srivatsa can be reached at v.srivatsa@gmail.com)

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