x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Kumble could be a saviour for Indian cricket

Anil Kumble's decision to run for sporting body's office raises hope that a man of integrity will bring sports administration in India out of the gutter.

BANGALORE, INDIA - OCTOBER 06: Anil Kumble with his wife during the ICC Annual Awards at the Red Carpet on October 6, 2010 in Bangalore, India. (Photo by Ritam Banerjee/Getty Images)
BANGALORE, INDIA - OCTOBER 06: Anil Kumble with his wife during the ICC Annual Awards at the Red Carpet on October 6, 2010 in Bangalore, India. (Photo by Ritam Banerjee/Getty Images)

Sports administrators down the ages have not exactly been beacons of enlightenment.

Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president described by Brian Glanville, the noted sports writer, as "a man who has 50 ideas a day, 51 of them bad", has advocated skimpier shorts for women among other things.

Avery Brundage, the American who headed the International Olympic Committee for 20 years from 1952, was a known Nazi sympathiser who claimed to be averse to politics in sport. Yet, the man who had no issues with repugnant "Heil Hitler" salutes threw Tommy Smith and John Carlos out of the Olympic Village in Mexico in 1968 after their gloved Black Power gesture during the medal ceremony for the 200m.

Even by those standards though, south Asia has really scraped the barrel when it comes to the men entrusted with the destiny of its most popular sports.

In Bangladesh, cricket administration changes hands with election results. Yesterday's boss is often today's jailbird, as the country's leading parties make the cricket field an extension of street rivalries.

Sri Lanka has been little different. Since 2005, various interim committees have controlled the island's cricket.

It has been hard to escape the notion that big names have been little more than stooges for higher powers, with India and Pakistan leading the way when it comes to nonsensical political appointments to top-level sporting posts.

A case in point is Ijaz Butt, whose bizarre statements and about-turns have left Pakistan cricket in a mess. "His governance has been a failure," said Imran Khan recently.

"When the spot-fixing allegations first came out against our players, the PCB [Pakistan Cricket Board] itself should have taken action against the players instead of waiting for the ICC [International Cricket Council] to step in."

Indian cricket resisted political interference for a long time, but ever since Sharad Pawar's foray into administration in the new millennium, that pitch too has been queered.

The India-New Zealand Test match is being played at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad. The man in charge of the Gujarat Cricket Association? Narendra Modi, the chief minister, who was once refused a US visa because of his alleged involvement in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

At least India have enjoyed some success on the cricket field.

The story of its hockey is one of inexorable decline, and much of the blame can be laid at the door of Kunwar Pal Singh Gill, the former Punjab police chief who first took charge of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) in 1994.

The tone was set soon after he was first elected, when two journalists from the Statesman newspaper were roughed up by his minions for daring to raise inconvenient truths.

Earlier this week, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a 78-year-old politician who has been in charge of the Archery Association of India for 31 years, kicked up a huge fuss over the Delhi High Court's decision to limit the tenures of those in charge of national sports federations.

Early in his IHF tenure, Gill too had made some interesting remarks in that regard. "The real bane of our sports organisation is that the people who come into power do not want to leave the seats of power," he said. "The government guidelines stipulate that the person should remain in charge of a federation for not more than eight years.

"I think these are very sensible guidelines because everyone runs out of ideas after a period of time, no matter how brilliant he is. And I would be happy if there was a law to ensure the eight-year term in this country."

How long did Gill stay glued to his chair? By the time the International Olympic Committee dismissed the IHF, the self-styled great helmsman had cracked the whip for 14 years.

If there is to be a way out of this vicious cycle, it has to come from athletes unafraid to script the future of the sports that gave them fame and fortune.

One such man in Anil Kumble, India's greatest-ever bowler who has now thrown his hat into the ring as far as Karnataka cricket is concerned.

"I retired two years ago and was keen to get involved in the association," he said. "I thought this was the best time for the cricketers of our generation to get involved.

Kumble is already chairman of the National Cricket Academy, but taking on multiple roles is not daunting for a man who once bowled with a fractured jaw taped up.

"If I didn't have the time, I wouldn't be sitting here," he said. "The priority is cricket, whether it is the NCA, or Karnataka. It's been a big decision but I've taken that decision for the good of cricket."

In a world of chancers, it takes a strong man with integrity to stay on the straight and narrow. Kumble, who fought as hard as anyone while being scrupulously fair, is just such a man.