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Sports Authority of India Loses ‘Authority’, Gains Nothing

Leslie Xavier |
The Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore-led sports ministry should help clean the bureaucratic web stifling sports bodies instead of indulging in a pointless rebranding exercise
Union sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

Union sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore announced on July 4 that Sports Authority of India (SAI) would be renamed as Sports India.

The Union government’s obsession with renaming and rebranding -- from roads to buildings and monuments -- has finally touched the realm of sports. The 34-year-old Sports Authority of India (SAI) will lose “authority” from its name. On July 4, Union sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore announced SAI would be renamed as Sports India.

“Sports Authority of India is being renamed. The word authority is being removed. It will be known as Sports India now,” Rathore said after SAI’s Governing Body meeting in New Delhi.

But even as the sports minister announced this change, without clearly explaining the need for or the purpose of it, the move was another glaring example of the disjointed manner sports administration is run in India.

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The irony: The press release issued after the meeting by SAI, or should we say erstwhile SAI, had no mention of the name change, or whether it had been approved. Instead, the release contained a couple of other intriguing announcements.

“It was emphasised that the highest quality of food and nutrition which is appropriate to the development of athletes at various levels should be ensured and there should be zero compromise on this issue,” the release said.

The Governing Body has “advised SAI” to rope in companies in the hospitality sector to manage food and other facilities under the SAI Residential Scheme. Now, we know that this has the potential to throw open a Pandora’s box full of corruption opportunity, starting with the tender process.

The sports minister, an Olympic medallist (which ensures hero status in a success-starved country), is revered as an athlete, no doubt. But as a minister, his initiatives have either not really taken off, or are peripheral, like this name change, for instance. Then, there was the much celebrated, and publicized, Khelo India initiative.

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A platform for young athletes to compete is great, no doubt. But a better initiative would be mobilizing grassroots programmes across the country for various sports, instead of spending money on an extravaganza.

Instead of this rebranding or renaming exercise, which would again entail some administrative cost, not to mention confusion, the sports ministry would have done itself and the athletes a lot of good by clearing the bureaucratic web stifling SAI and other sports governing bodies.

While the SAI or the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) are governing bodies that are supposed to be, in essence, umbrellas to bring the sports federations together, ensuring everything is regulated, and everyone can avail benefits of government programmes among other things, things are hardly transparent or clear-cut.

The latest example of that is the IOA vs All India Football Federation (AIFF) mudslinging over the former not clearing the Indian football teams’ participation in the upcoming Asian Games in Jakarta. What has become apparent during the episode is that the main problem, besides the football teams not meeting IOA criteria for clearance, is an ego tussle between the babus of the two bodies.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

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The sports ministry, and Rathore who clearly understands the problems that ail Indian sports having been part of the system himself, would do better by ending PR stunts such as this renaming attempt or “fitness challenges”.

The focus should be on working towards formulating a roadmap to help break the shackles off Indian sports, tied down by afflictions ranging from corruption, nepotism, political power-plays, vested interests…. The list is endless.

Till this list is systematically pruned, Indian sports will remain the same, one where “authority”, in the form of a Proper Noun or otherwise, will always be misused!

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