For a cleaner playing field

For a cleaner playing field

Ajay Maken, the newly anointed minister of state for youth and sports affairs, finds himself in the right place at the right time. The Commonwealth Games, which is now more an anthology of scams rather than being just one scam, brought out almost everything that was wrong with sports.

The corruption itself was embarrassing, but not particularly surprising. The Games showcased institutionalized levels of incompetence on a very public stage. At least one stadium was abandoned before the event. And the athletics tracks were completed hours before the first races. One shudders to think how bad things are at grass-roots level. Who knows how handball is run in Orissa? Badminton in Bihar?

Thankfully, Maken seems to have hit the ground running. On Tuesday he presented for debate the draft National Sports Development Bill 2011. The Bill is now available for download from the ministry website. The public has been invited to provide feedback.

Overall, the Bill seeks to achieve three things: a thorough clean-up of the administration set-up, long-term development plans for all government supported sports, and a sports ombudsman scheme.

The first of those is challenging enough to be an Olympic event in itself. Many sports bodies in India are personal fiefdoms. V.K. Malhotra took over as president of the Archery Association of India shortly before Hosni Mubarak became president of Egypt.

Maken’s draft Bill seeks to create fresh norms for the recognition of national sports bodies. This includes age limits for office bearers—70 years —and a tenure limit—association presidents are only allowed up to 12 years in office. The Bill requires new and existing bodies to once again prove why the government should recognize them.

Given how resistant some of the sporting tsars are to any challenge, Maken’s Bill will see debate. No doubt the International Olympic Committee, notoriously wary of government dabbling in sports bodies, will also want to have a look.

But with the nation currently plumbing the depths of public virtue, Maken will do well to push it through. And the rest of the country will do even better to help him with it.

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