Mani Shankar Aiyar, M.S. Gill and Ajay Maken were three successive sports ministers who tried hard to rein in the powerful sports federations in the country. One was a diplomat, the second a bureaucrat and the third a grassroots politician. They worked on a new sports code, which insisted on new norms of functioning by the entrenched interests which controlled sports bodies for decades. Even as the new sports minister Jitendra Singh took charge, the sports code had kicked in, as the Indian Olympic Association and many of its affiliate federations had got enmeshed in controversies of corruption and cronyism. The jailing of heavyweights like Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot on corruption charges had given more ammunition to the government.
But no one likes to give up power. Hence, one federation after another is finding solace in the “Lalu formula”, where power is passed on to a blood relative, if one is disqualified. When Lalu Prasad could not continue as Bihar chief minister in view of corruption cases, he ensured that his wife, Rabri Devi, warmed the seat, while he ran the show with full power and no accountability. The Table Tennis Federation of India, a fiefdom of the Chautalas of Haryana, held its elections after Ajay Singh Chautala (in jail after being convicted in a corruption case) completed three mandatory terms. But it had no hesitation in electing his son Dushyant Chautala as its senior vice-president. Though a former bureaucrat was elected as president for a four-year term, it is to be seen whether the Chautala camp would stage a coup to make young Dushyant the president soon. Ajay's younger brother Abhay Singh Chautala, who is facing ouster from the Boxing Federation of India's presidentship, is also planning to bring one of his sons into the mix.
The Dhindsas of Punjab had pedalled to the generational transition even before the sports code came into being. Father Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, an Akali politician and minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, controlled the Cycling Federation of India. Knowing the inevitability of the sports code, which put restrictions on term and age, he ensured that his son Parminder Singh, a minister in Punjab, took the saddle of the federation two years ago.
The machinations in the national federations show that, while there is a de jure acceptance of the sports code, which is aimed at democratising the administration of all sports, de facto control will be vested with the dominant groups. This will be a hard nut to crack, as almost all federations are controlled by leaders of many political hues.