The Supreme Court has rightfully set aside the Archery Association of India constitution, as amended by Delhi High Court-appointed Administrator-cum-Returning Officer SY Quraishi, and also the elections held on 22 December 2018 under that constitution. The two-member bench of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Ajay Rastogi ordered fresh elections to be held in four weeks.
Not a few across both sides of the fence were waiting for the order with bated breath from the time the Court held its final hearing on 28 March. This order will ensure that the steps would finally be taken toward Archery Association of India setting its house in order and returning to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports’ list of recognised National Sports Federations after seven years.
Had the Supreme Court given its stamp of approval for the new constitution, as amended by Dr Quraishi, every other National Sports Federation would have come under pressure to change its own statute in keeping with his philosophy. There would have been far-reaching consequences in sports governance at large.
In rejecting AAI’s new constitution, the Supreme Court has given the National Sports Code 2011 a thumbs-up as the frame of reference for compliance by National Sports Federations. It has recognised the Code as the document that governs sports administration at the national level in India. There could be no greater source of strength for the Code than the highest Court.
The other thing that emerges is that neither Court-appointed administrators nor career sports administrators, can assume unfettered powers. It does not make sense for anyone to ignore the tenets of good governance laid down in the Code, which is actually a set of directives that the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports laid down for National Sports Federations since 1975.
Be that as it may, the genesis of this case dates back to March 2017 when the Archery Association of India held an emergent general council meeting and was taken to the Delhi High Court. It was on 10 August 2017 that the Delhi High Court appointed former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi as AAI Administrator-cum-Returning Officer.
The Delhi High Court directed that the Administrator resolve some disaffiliation issues that had cropped up on 15 December 2016; prepare an electoral college and hold elections within six weeks thereafter; oversee the amendments to the AAI constitution and bring it in line with the Code; and then hold a fresh elections within four months.
Dr Quraishi could have set things right but in his eagerness to draw up a roadmap for sports governance in the country – like the Justice Lodha Committee did for Board of Control for Cricket in India – he went into unchartered territory. His lot was to ensure that the elections were held in keeping with the National Sports Development Code 2011. But he exceeded that.
It is a good guess that he did not have the right advice from those he trusted with legal matters. And it is possible that they would have wagered on the Supreme Court replicating the approach it took in the BCCI matter. They overlooked the fact that the Justice Lodha Committee was appointed by the Supreme Court itself and hence accepted its recommendations in toto.
The AAI constitution, as amended by Dr Quraishi, was never passed by the Archery Association of India’s general council. In BCCI’s case, the Supreme Court approved the constitution presented by the Committee of Administrators that it had appointed to complete this task and the BCCI had no option but to accept the new constitution as its statute.
In his role as AAI Administrator, Dr Quraishi held the powers of the office-bearers and the executive committee. But he appeared to assume the powers that are vested in the general council, including amending the constitution. It is here that he was not the beneficiary of the right legal advice.
All they needed to do was look at the progress of the case filed by the Maharashtra Archery Association in the Supreme Court. After all, the Additional Solicitor General of India. Mr Narasimha had told the Court that he had studied the AAI constitution and noticed some minor deviations from the requirements of the Code.
He said that AAI elections rules had not mentioned they would be held by secret ballot, that AAI allowed each full member to send three representatives and not two as laid down by the Code, that it had no stipulation that a State unit should have at least 50 percent of districts functioning for it to be a full member, and that AAI provided for up to three Life Presidents with no voting rights.
Dr Quraishi would have had no issues had he ensured that only these four points were addressed when amending the AAI constitution before holding the elections. Instead, his advisors helped him write a statute that included voting rights for individual members – he wanted a third of the voting members to be distinguished archers but found only 21.
When the elections were notified more than a year later, the Supreme Court had the option of rejecting the AAI constitution, as amended by Dr Quraishi. On 19 November 2018, it decided to let the election process continue uninterrupted since it had been set rolling on 4 October. The Court clarified that the elections results were subject to the outcome of the application moved by the aggrieved parties.
Yet, while the National Sports Federations will heave a collective sigh of relief but there is no doubt that sports governance in India needs to keep pace with the evolving times and cannot be stuck in statutes that were drawn up years ago. The Federations must also activate their respective Athlete Commissions to ensure decision-making forums are represented by all stakeholders.
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Updated Date: May 01, 2019 15:47:19 IST