New Delhi, Aug. 31: A day after his ministry presented the controversial National Sports Development Bill, Ajay Maken has climbed down from his stand and looks more open to negotiations.
In an interview to The Telegraph, the sports minister said he was ready to convince and reason with both his cabinet colleagues and sports federations.
Q: How do you react to the BCCIs protest and its complete refusal to accept the bill?
The BCCI may claim that they do not get direct grants from us, but how do you account for all the indirect monetary help that they get.
They get land free of cost or at concessional rates from the government. The majority of their properties across India has been built on such land. For example, the Feroze Shah Kotla stadium (Delhi) or the Dharamshala stadium (Himachal). They also get tax exemptions of all kinds.
On the majority of their imports, they demand customs exemption. So much so that during the World Cup and even during the IPLs, they demand entertainment tax exemptions.
Each time there is a match, there is massive police deployment. The police do not charge them a penny. How do you account for all this indirect monetary benefits that they get?
Q: But how can the BCCI be treated as a public body?
The biggest public function that the BCCI does is to select a team that represents India. Therefore, I feel they are answerable to the Indian public. By bringing the BCCI under the RTI Act, 2005, we are not making them accountable to us. Instead, we are making them accountable to the public who spend huge amounts of money on cricket.
Q: The general mood is that this bill is exclusively directed to control the BCCI more than any other federation. What are your reactions to this allegation?
The bill is not just about cricket, it talks about all sporting bodies.
This bill has made a distinction between the federations that get direct grants from the government and those who get indirect (ones). If you read the bill closely, these distinctions have been clearly made.
Only the national sports federations that get direct grants or funds from us need to submit us a long-term development plan. The idea is merely to know what these federations plan to do with the funds. Federations like the BCCI which receive indirect funds need not submit such a plan. The second point is that we will set up an ombudsman only for the federations that receive direct monetary help from us, not for federations like the BCCI.
Q: Do you actually believe that this bill can bring in sweeping changes in sports administration?
It is already too late for this bill, it should have already been in place.
If this was applicable during the Commonwealth Games, we would not have had any cases of corruption or mess. The majority of the federation chiefs and the Indian Olympic Association office-bearers who were running the show during the Commonwealth Games would not have been present at all. What everyone needs to understand is that our intention is not to control but to regulate the sporting federations. We want to make them more transparent and accountable.
Q: Several of your cabinet colleagues have questioned the 70-year age limit for sports administrators when such a limit does not exist in politics. What would you say?
I cannot comment on the proceedings of the cabinet or on the statements made by my cabinet colleagues. But as far as our decision to have 70 years as the age limit is concerned, it is an international norm. Even in the International Olympic Committee, which all the federations treat as the mother body, the retirement age is 70. In fact, the charter adopted at the 13th Olympic Congress in 2007 has listed 70 years as the age limit and fixed tenure in its guidelines for all sporting bodies.
Q: The presidents of various federations have argued that like MPs or MLAs, they are also elected representative and thus they need not have fixed tenure or age limit. How do you react?
When the federation members argue against the provisions of limited tenure on the basis that they are elected bodies, what they forget that they are elected by a very small electorate. Can a common man be member of BCCI and vote to elect the office-bearers?
Till now, these federations have merely had voting through voice vote. We intend to introduce several measures to make sure that the elections are free and fair. We have provisions in the bill for secret ballot. A retired high court judge should be the returning officer during the elections. The elections should be held without fail every four years.
Q: Do you think you will be able to resuscitate the bill?
I will try to convince and reason with my cabinet colleagues. Also, we will speak to the federations. Whichever provision they find intrusive can be removed. At the same time, I would not compromise with the clauses in the bill that are for transparency, accountability and universal principles of good governance.