Commonwealth Games 2018: IOA-sports ministry spat over extra officials more a matter of perception than reality

The public response of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) officials to a reported attempt by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to exercise control over the contingent for the Commonwealth Games 2018 in Gold Coast appeared to paint a needlessly hostile landscape. It does appear to be smoothening out now.

At the outset, it must be said that there has been no official word from the Ministry about pruning the size of the Indian contingent. And thus, all talk of such an action could have stemmed from someone in the Ministry floating a trial balloon. Until there is official communication from the Ministry, it would be pointless to dwell on such an issue.

IOA may have quietly pointed out to the Ministry that the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) was bound to pay the travel costs of its 300-strong contingent, including 225 athletes and 75 coaches, support staff and managers. And that the cost of travel of the “extra officials” would be borne by the respective National Sports Federations.

 Commonwealth Games 2018: IOA-sports ministry spat over extra officials more a matter of perception than reality

Minister for Sport Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore with IOA chief Narinder Batra. AFP

Clearly, the size of the Indian competitors was fixed at 225 by the Commonwealth Games Federation and GOLDOC. It also meant that as many as 75 officials (coaches, managers and support staff) would be accommodated in the Games Village. Thus, India would be given a travel grant for as many as 300 athletes and officials by GOLDOC.

Even at the time of placing its bid to host the Games, GOLDOC had specified that the Queensland Government would guarantee that it (GOLDOC) will provide 100 percent travel grants for accredited athletes/officials based on the formula outlined in the Candidate City manual.

Interestingly, as per the Commonwealth Games Manual, 20 percent of the travel grant would have been given to Indian Olympic Association as early as 22 September, 2017 and a further 50 percent on 24 November, 2017 upon receipt of accreditation information. The rest would be given on 4 May, 2018 after adjustments for Village/Rate Card damages and any charges remaining unpaid.

What stopped the IOA from using this amount to secure travel bookings for at least 70 percent of the costs and not seek an advance from the Ministry is unclear, but with IOA insisting that the cost of taking along extra officials would be borne by the respective National Sports Federations, there should be little reason for anyone to be left behind.

A look at the range of “extra officials” will indicate that most of these are not officials of the National Sports Federations but support staff. The only ones that drew more than cursory attention in this list were related to badminton stars. Saina Nehwal’s father Harvir Singh and PV Sindhu’s mother Vijaya Pusarla made it to the list.

Curiously, the list also did not show two “extra officials” with the hockey teams. With 36 players, hockey would have been entitled to 12 officials but by not placing any of the 14 officials as “extra officials”, IOA may have willy-nilly managed to give hockey a pride of place. Similarly, despite choosing 32 players, athletics was able to show none of its 12 officials as “extra officials”.

Of course, there will be many beyond the IOA’s list of 330 who will be headed to Gold Coast over the next few days. It is another matter altogether that, unhindered by selection processes that curtail the number of beds allocated to the Indian contingent in the Games Village, they will already have secured their tickets, visas and booked their accommodation in Queensland.

The spat between IOA and some bureaucrats has drawn the attention of media at home and overseas. And the international media has lapped this up, glossing over things like the possibility of empty seats at Games venues, expensive hotel rooms, some of the 15,000 volunteers being sent wrong-sized uniforms, or 14,000 opening ceremony tickets printed with a mistake. It is hard not to wonder how the media — Indian and international — would have taken the organising committee to task if such things happened here.

At home, though, the moot point, therefore, are whether all members of the Indian contingent will secure their visas in time and if the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation will stand firm and not accommodate the three Indian track and field athletes whose names were sent a day or two after entries officially closed.

The whispered threats of a boycott by the Indian track and field team may not be anything more than posturing or sabre-rattling.

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) mandarins know better than anyone else that they cannot possibly execute a withdrawal without running Government and fans, athletes and coaches, on the wrong side. It is just as well that AFI has already quashed the rumours.

There is no doubt that between them, the IOA and the AFI will swing things their way and secure entries and accreditations for long jumper M Sreeshankar, high jumper Siddharth Yadav and 4x400m relay runner GK Vijayakumari in time. The AFI has cited the entry rules of International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in its favour.

Namdev Shirgaonkar, General Secretary of the Modern Pentathlon Federation of India, who is one the three managers assisting chef de mission Vikram Sisodia has been charged with the task of ensuring that the three athletes are granted entries and accreditation. It will be among the more important tasks that he will handle in the coming weeks.

Indian sport has a knack of producing order out of chaos and, before long, we will see things roll out smoothly. The Commonwealth Games 2018 will be no different. And, when the curtain comes down on the Gold Coast edition, India will be celebrating some success and some heroes, ruing some misses and discussing a few ifs and buts. As it always does.

Updated Date: Mar 24, 2018 21:20:44 IST

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