Politicians love to rule our sports administration
The Indian Premier League, a three-year-old cricket competition that has removed the distinction between sports pages, politics, Page 3 and the crime beat, has become a gladiatorial sport.
The suspected shenanigans involving this tournament have resulted in the resignation of a junior foreign minister and raised questions on the probity of two senior ministers. It is also convulsing Parliament and has taken up the time of the Congress president, prime minister, home minister and finance minister.
Of course, few Indians avidly following the increasingly complex details of alleged fraud and tax evasion in this hugely popular, glamorous and profitable tournament are likely to question the bizarre nature of the controversy. That's because in India the connection between politics and sports is taken for granted.
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Farm head of the whole 22 yards
And nothing illustrates this better than cricket. It is no coincidence that the initials of the BCCI, the body that regulates India's most popular sport, expands to Board for Control of Cricket in India. Control? Surely the verb should be Promotion?
Note also that it is headed by a serving government minister, who holds a portfolio as critical as agriculture. Sharad Pawar, a senior cabinet minister and prime ministerial aspirant, took time out to fight an election to head this profitable institution that has just spawned an even bigger money machine and emerging global brand, the IPL.
As head of the regulator, he played a key role in elbowing out Subhash Chandra's Indian Cricket League, the original progenitor of the Twenty20 format, from the cricketing calendar in favour of BCCI.
He now has to fend off allegations of proxy ownership of IPL teams, as does his NCP colleague, Aviation Minister Praful Patel. It is striking that Pawar's attentions are focused on the cricket pitch when food inflation has been cripplingly high for the past year and even a rookie economist can tell you that Indian agriculture is in dire straits.
Image: Sharad Pawar in his office
Photographs: Vijay Mathur/Reuters
An 'ardent sportsman'
But his alleged involvement in IPL deals via his daughter is not his sole connection with Indian sport.
He is also president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
The profile on the AIFF website describes him as an "ardent sportsman" but does not specify what sports he ardently plays. Instead, it says he is President of Western India Football Association and Vice President of Maharashtra Olympic Association.
And even more oddly, the profile says his key job as AIFF president is to be "instrumental in getting support from BCCI for Infrastructure Development and preparation of Indian team for the AFC Asian Cup 2011" (emphasis added). He is also a member of the Fifa standing committee's legal body, though he does not appear to have studied law (he is, in fact, a BCom graduate).
Image: Praful Patel
The list could go on...
Patel's accession to AIFF president-ship came after the illness of Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who was elevated to "honorary presidentship" after four terms as president. Das Munshi, MP from Bengal, was minister for information and broadcasting and parliamentary affairs in the first UPA government before he suffered a stroke in 2008.
The list could go on.
Suresh Kalmadi, MP from Pune, has controversially headed India's Olympic committee for years and is now piloting the Commonwealth Games.
Hockey India, the troubled regulator of India's national game, is headed by a Vidya Stokes, a Congress Party worker and an MLA from Himachal Pradesh.
The perks (foreign travel, ringside seats and so on) that come with these jobs are an obvious attraction for politicians, never mind India's mostly poor global sporting performance. The licence raj mentality may be receding in India Inc, but it seems to be flourishing in Indian sports.
Image: Suresh Kalmadi promoting the Delhi Commonwealth Games in London