Politicisation of sports in India; how to run sporting federations

One way forward is for Indian sports bodies to mandate that any office-bearer must have had a minimum of 10 years of direct involvement with the sport

Jay Shah and Sourav Ganguly.
Jay Shah and Sourav Ganguly.

Last week, sports marketing company Baseline Ventures’ win against Volleyball Federation of India (VFI), with the latter being directed to pay Rs 4 crore along with interest as damages and legal fees for wrongful termination of the 10 year content for Pro Volleyball League, once again brought the spotlight on sports federations being run by politicians and bureaucrats as against sports professionals.

“Politicians and bureaucrats have run sporting bodies for a very long time and there is nothing new in that. While bureaucrats are good administrators, a sports professional’s presence in the management helps in understanding the needs of athletes,” Yashwanth Biyyala, director at Baseline Ventures India Pvt Ltd, told BrandWagon Online.

While some may call it a lethal cocktail, others believe power and money go hand in glove, and the situation with the sporting federation is not different. Case in point – the Board of Cricket Control in India (BCCI). From late Arun Jaitly to Rajeev Shukla, BCCI over the years has been managed by many politicians besides businessmen such as Lalit Modi and N Srinivasan, among others. Needless to say, it has over the years witnessed its share of scandals. The IPL match-fixing scam also led to the exit of its then chairperson Lalit Modi – who is said to be the man behind the inception of the T20 tourney. “After many years of constant conflict, the BCCI seems to have finally got the mix right between Jay Shah and former captain Saurav Ganguly. Both are experts in their field and bring the best to the table,” said a senior agency head, on condition of anonymity.

Industry analysts believe that some of the sports such as football, kabaddi, among others seemed to have got the right combination. For Indian Super League – the football league is managed and run by three bodies including Football Sports Development (FSD) – a subsidiary of IMG-Reliance along with All India Football Federation and Star Sports – the sports channel from the house of The Walt Disney Company India (which has the broadcast rights). Similarly, Pro Kabaddi League is managed by Mashal Sports Pvt. Ltd and Star India, and is backed by the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), and supported by participating members of the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF) and the Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF). According to Lloyd Mathias, business strategist and angel investor, the link between Indian sports associations and politics is not new. Back in the 1980s the BCCI presidency was held by Congress stalwarts like NKP Salve and Madhav Rao Scindia. The All India Football Federation was led by Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi and now by Praful Patel.

For a senior marketer, who did not want to be named, sporting federations need to understand that sports marketing companies have the skills to make money through sponsorship. Hence, the job should be left to them. “A perfect combination for a league is that the governing body should be a combination of bureaucrats and sports professionals. In fact, off late sports professionals have begun to return to mine the sporting bodies,” he added.

At an international level too, politics seem to have found a way to co-exist with sports. For instance, South Africa had to cope with social protests in 2010 and Brazil faced a similar problem in 2014. Furthermore, European countries like Germany were criticized about human trafficking and corruption in FIFA. India meanwhile can draw a lesson.

“One way forward is for Indian sports bodies to mandate that any office-bearer must have had a minimum of 10 years of direct involvement with the sport – either as a player, coach or administrator – to qualify as an office-bearer at an All India level. Also, taking a leaf from international bodies, Indian Sports Associations must encourage professionals to take on key roles, and not leave it open to honorary positions. That way accountability will be tied to performance and not able to garner support from local sports bodies,” added Mathias. While this is easier said than done given the vast following most sports enjoy – politicians will want to get in to be a part of the action.

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