x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

We need a trouble-shooter

India's sporting scene is akin to a boxing match between players and officials with not a referee in sight to stop the bloody battle.

Top politicians like the Indian Prime Minister should step in to ensure that the Commonwealth Games run smoothly.
Top politicians like the Indian Prime Minister should step in to ensure that the Commonwealth Games run smoothly.

India's sporting scene is akin to a boxing match between players and officials with not a referee in sight to stop the bloody battle. The country's hockey players have ended their dispute with the establishment, but it is the hockey elections that are attracting controversy after certain state units questioned the decision to ignore them when it came to affiliations. Pargat Singh, the former India captain and secretary of Hockey Punjab, criticised Hockey India for deferring the elections and accused Suresh Kalmadi, the president of the Indian Olympic Association (the country's top hockey body), of heading a "sports mafia".

In another row, Sushil Kumar, the wrestler, and snooker great Yasin Merchant raised a storm when they were ignored for the prestigious Padma Shri award. As an Olympic bronze medallist, Sushil believed he deserved the honour while Asian Games gold medal winner Yasin has been expecting the award for more than five years. Both men have every right to feel victimised. Yasin is the country's best-known snooker player while Sushil missed out on the Padma Shri when his fellow bronze medallist at the 2008 Olympic Games - Vijender Singh, the boxer - emerged an award winner.

Last Saturday, Yasin wrote a letter to Rahul Gandhi (son of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi) which did not have a trace of mildness. It read: "I do not have very strong political connections, nor do I have the desire to buy these awards (was told a price too this time). "Until this year I was very keen to be honoured with the Padma Shri, but after having tried really hard this year too (through performances and nothing else), my heart, body and soul say only one thing, let the government take its Padma Awards and stuff them where pain would know no limits'."

What is most shocking about Yasin's letter is his suggestion that someone offered to sell him the award. The sports lover deserves a break from all this depressing news, but more importantly, Indian sport needs a trouble-shooter. My choice would be Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister. In a great sporting year, India will be hosting two big events - the hockey World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. I am not even talking about the cash-coated Indian Premier League cricket scheduled for March-April.

Manmohan Singh can no longer depend on his ministers to solve a sporting crisis like the hockey issue. How can India hope to host the most important hockey event if their administration is in disarray? No, the prime minister will not be able to create an atmosphere of peace overnight. After all, he will be dealing with people who have egos of the size of a bus. What he can do is rule with an iron fist simply because his country's prestige is at stake.

There is still much doubt as to whether the Commonwealth Games in October will be run smoothly. Isn't the prime minister concerned, even if he has bigger issues to tackle? For starters, he has to make a surprise appearance to check on the preparations. People who were around to oversee preparations for the 1982 Asian Games remember the impressive level of interest Rajiv Gandhi, (son of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) displayed to ensure the Games were a huge success. Dynamic Rajiv came over one night to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi to discover that the workers were not given appropriate meals during the long hours they put in at the stadium. This was one of the many things he sorted out.

An athletics official recently told me how a top-ranking army man was appointed to head a group of officials who would conduct the track and field events. When one complained about not getting the importance he felt he deserved for all his qualifications and experience, he was at the receiving end of these words: "Sir, I appreciate your expertise and experience, but you are part of this team. If you feel you cannot gel with your mates, you are most welcome to leave us."

The disgruntled official decided to toe the line. It is believed that Rajiv Gandhi, who went on to be Prime Minster when his mother was assassinated two years after the Delhi event, was one of the key reasons behind the success of the 1982 Asian Games. Not only were they well conducted, but viewers still remember the excellent television coverage from a national broadcaster that struggles to meet international standards today. That is the kind of impact the Commonwealth Games should have on the youth of India.

Rajiv's son Rahul is another who can swat away a host of problems which are a hindrance to the Games. Probably, his entry is just a request away. Indian sports administrators must do everything in their power to protect their country's image, even if it means exposing themselves to more respon- sibility, even if it means missing out on some "benefits". Is that asking too much? Going by the form of our sporting chieftains, I certainly think so.

Clayton Murzello is the Group Sports Editor of the Indian newspaper MiD DAY sports@thenational.ae