Lull before the storm in IOA elections

Lull before the storm in IOA elections

The quiet before the storm can be deceptive. With four days left for filing nominations to the high-stakes Indian Olympic Association elections, there is not much news trickling in. That is, officially.

Unofficially, there are emails, Whatsapp messages and much more flying around, some cryptic, some nasty, some written in acid, not ink. At the same time, there are also a few newspaper clippings and screenshots doing the rounds of those in IOA who “are corrupt”.

Simply cut to the last reel, as they say in the last part of a film production, these IOA elections, though seemingly quiet, are of high stakes. One man who kept things transparent and not left anything to interpretation is current President, Narinder Dhruv Batra. He will be seeking re-election.

Batra won the last elections very easily in New Delhi in 2017. Since then, his stature has only grown manifold. He has intervened in many ticklish issues, taking a strong stance on India’s participation in the 2022 Commonwealth Games. But there can be no doubting he has meant and done good for sport at large, not just hockey, at home and abroad.

Anyone who has followed Batra’s WA messages will vouch he is taking these IOA elections very seriously. He has travelled the length and breadth of the country, like he did when he globe-trotted and canvassed for the FIH elections in 2017. In 2021, Batra was re-elected the FIH President, which shows he is still popular.

As regards these IOA elections, Batra’s meetings with various national sports federations, state Olympic associations/committees from north to south and  east to west has sent the right signals. He has talked of India doing well at large, and in these Olympics in Tokyo, the haul of seven medals was not bad, considering that there was so much unpredictability because of the pandemic.

Critics, nay cynics, say Batra was off the mark as he had predicted a higher medal tally. But that’s the fault of a few disciplines like shooting and archery, which performed miserably.

As of today, it is not clear who are the other key members who will be seeking office in the IOA executive. The other main posts are that of secretary and treasurer. Outgoing secretary Rajeev Mehta, who is supposed to be from the rival camp, cannot contest for the secretary’s post. However, the IOA Constitution permits him to contest against Batra for the President’s post.

Whether this will happen or not will become clear on December 4, the day nominations are filed. Retired judge Usha Mehra will have a lot on her hands as she takes charge as the returning officer for these elections. She will, ideally, go by the IOA constitution. But for onlookers of Indian sport, it will be interesting to see what Rajeev Mehta does as he is ineligible to seek election as an IOA office bearer as per the  National Sports Code.

As one who threw the rule book at many national sports federations in the last four years and issued notices to them, the same National Sports Code can haunt him. Given the amount of time and money wasted on legal matters by the IOA, where Mehta had a large role to play, the days ahead will be interesting.

The “Mehta camp”, to borrow from what one hears, is also planning its strategy in the Capital. How many voters he has managed to mobilise and how many candidates with a clean slate he will be able to prop up remains to be seen. One cannot forget another player in these elections, Anandeshwar Pandey, from the Handball Federation of India. The HFI is now run by an administrator and Pandey could well throw his hat into the ring as a nominee from  the Uttar Pradesh Olympic Association.

There a few a few more so-called heavyweights as well who are supposed to be “players” in these elections. They claim to have political backing as well, though, in reality, being head of  non-descript NSFs and not an Olympic  discipline hardly matters.

These elections are also different as everyone is tight-lipped in public domain, Mehta had two terms, one under N.Ramachandran as President. When he became secretary for a second term, elected unopposed, relations between him and Batra were different.

Times have changed. It is impossible to take the name of these two IOA heavyweights in the same breath. The key issues in these election are people who want to win need to have good for sports in India and promotion of sports at heart. Unless the IOA takes the lead, there is no point in hoping the government and NSFs alone will do the job.

At stake also is issues relating to the autonomy of the NSFs, which have been threatened, periodically, by the government. For its part,  the IOA has also made life miserable for some NSFs in the past and present, including the sports of rowing,, karate, judo and taekwondo. Who was behind all these actions is very well known to the sporting fraternity.

India did reasonably well in Tokyo. The map ahead is not easy, Commonwealth Games plus Asian Games in 2022, and the Paris Olympics in 2024. The Indian sports fraternity needs a National Olympic Committee with people who will do good. And that’s the image Batra has built for himself.

(PS: This writer was issued a legal notice in 2020 by IOA for factual reporting on the Rowing Federation of India elections).  

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