Express Message Service
CHENNAI: Non-compliance with the Code of Sport by the National Sports Federations (NSFs) has prompted the Delhi Supreme Court to order the Sports Ministry to withdraw financial grants and issue a notice of suspension to all misguided associations. If it is not resolved early things can get complicated not only for the NSFs but also for the Ministry of Sport and the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
According to a ministry affidavit, 46 of these associations have been granted recognition through May 2022. However, senior attorney and petitioner Rahul Mehra said all NSFs violate the Sports Code in one form or another. NSFs are responsible for not following the sporting code, but as stated by the HC even the ministry is responsible for not taking action against the failing federations. The ministry’s request that six federations, including the Equestrian Federation of India, the Indian Golf Union, the Rowing Federation and the Yachting Association of India, should be recognized for their special nature was also rejected.
The court preferred the Ministry to grant recognition without adequately assessing NSFs’ compliance with the code.
“There can be no leeway to spend funds on companies that do not have the legal right to do so,” the court said on Thursday. “Regarding the above affidavit, recognition of the non-compliant NSFs should have stopped a long time ago. There is no scope for further extensions. For some reason, the defendant (Ministry of Sport) failed to ensure compliance with the previous orders. Have an officer of the rank of joint secretary present in court at the next hearing to assist in the matter.”
The court held that there was no clarity as to which NSFs follow the Sporting Code and which do not. “Apparently there is no clarity or confirmation as to which of the NSFs are fully compliant with the Sporting Code. Therefore, given the previous orders of 05/26/2022, 06/02/2022, it would only be logical, prudent, legal and just that government funds not be spent on entities whose legal status has yet to be determined. Accordingly, no more funds will be spent or any support given to NSFs until the next date (July 20).” The court considered that the entire exercise of compliance can be completed within one month.
The court has ordered the SAI to take care of the athletes’ training and competitions until the NSFs put their house in order. But things can get complicated. As this is a court ruling, NSFs could benefit from international federations (IFs) when in doubt, but there could be a possibility that they would see this as a violation of NSFs’ autonomy. And there will be teething.
What are the consequences of the suspension/withdrawal of recognition? According to the Sports Act, “Following the withdrawal of recognition, the NSF will cease exercising the functions of the NSF for the sports discipline in question. She renounces the right to regulate and control sport in India and select the national teams and represent India in international sporting events and forums. It is also no longer entitled to use India on its behalf or to receive any benefit or concession intended for any NSF as described in Section 3.6 of the National Sports Development Code 2011.
Challenges During Suspension
Interestingly, the NSFs receive their funding through various SAI programs and not directly from the ministry. They are non-profit organizations and the majority of support for NSFs is provided for training and competitions. And the amount goes either directly to the SAI centers or to places where athletes train in India or sometimes abroad. Athletes also receive direct support through various programs such as the Target Olympics Podium (TOP) Scheme. Even expenses incurred by national and foreign coaches at national camps or teams are listed in the Annual Training and Competition Calendar (ACTC) and are supported by NSFs. Other expenses from elite athletes are covered through the TOP program funded by SAI. There are also other programs under Special Area Games and Khelo India where funding goes directly to the academies where these select athletes train.
When national and international events are held, the funds go to the NSFs. Without this, the NSFs would have trouble hosting events. According to the February 2022 notification, Indian high priority traditional sports will receive Rs.51,000 (Rs.17,000 each for senior, junior and sub-junior). Other sports are charged Rs 30 lakh.
The NSFs also receive some government funding when athletes compete overseas. Sometimes entrance fees, board and lodging and subsistence allowances are given to the NSFs for distribution. In most cases, partial financing takes place and the remaining amount is refunded after presentation of the invoices. There have been cases in the past where NSFs have even had to take out loans to send athletes abroad and pay them back after the reimbursements have been made.
Submitting entries from a handful of suspended associations is fine. But sending that many could be complicated. The selection process itself will be difficult as most federations have established selection criteria and the process has already started, particularly for the 2022 Commonwealth Games from 28 July to 8 August. If NSFs are suspended, what about the officials who would escort the athletes for CWG? The lists have already been submitted for accreditation. Hopefully the court and ministry will find a solution by the next hearing on July 20th.
Sending athletes to international competitions can also be complicated. In any case, the international federations have not withdrawn their recognition. All entries are sent by the NSFs and not by the SAI. There might be instances where IFs might object to submissions broadcast by the Ministry as it might be seen as government interference. It has happened before and it can happen again. We have already seen how confusion reigns in taekwondo.
As some federation officials have pointed out in the past and still do today, who are the officials and coaches who accompany athletes in international competitions? There have been cases where SAI officials have been sent without much experience. With so many suspended associations, the SAI could be forced to send inexperienced officials.
Anyway, the Committee of Administrators (CoA) isn’t an answer either. Take the case of the Indian Table Tennis Federation (TTFI) for example. Hot times are ahead for a well-run organization. From selection controversies where top players have been overlooked to random messages to players, things are definitely not as they should be. Players even turn to the court in selection matters. The long suspension of the Archery Association of India (AAI) also showed that CoA is not always the right answer.
Many would have now realized that a large majority of NSF officers work on a pro bono basis. Payments to COAs chairs and members will increase the burden on NSFs unless the COAs rise to the challenge of raising resources for the sports they are charged with the task of administration.
Though the court has given a month to fix the misguided bandages, that’s easier said than done. Changes cannot be made overnight. Introducing amendments to the articles of association or the election/selection of members of the house takes time. Extraordinary general meetings usually have a notice period of 15 days, while convening general meetings usually takes a month. It has to be seen how NSFs and the Ministry end this standoff.