Tussle between GFI and IOA leaves Indian gymnasts in limbo two months prior to Asian Games

Spare a thought for the country’s gymnasts wanting to compete in the Asian Games in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. They could be a confused lot, given the continuing and unseemly tug-of-war between the Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

The GFI, emboldened by the recognition of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) and the support it got from the international body ahead of the Commonwealth Games this year, has announced open trials to select the Asian Games team. The IOA, on the contrary, is awaiting an empowering letter from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to conduct the selection process.

Representative image. Getty Images

Representative image. Getty Images

The Ministry’s field arm, the Sports Authority of India, is conducting a camp for 30 probables in the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi. It is not immediately clear who selected the 15 men and 15 women for the preparatory camp but a cursory look at the list will suffice to reveal that the country’s leading gymnasts are part of the camp.

Unmindful of the fact that the country’s 30 best gymnasts are in a camp in New Delhi, the GFI announced open trials at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune on 24 June to select the National team for the ensuing Asian Games in Indonesia. Significantly, 24 June is the last date for the camp in Delhi.

Curiously, GFI has sought a registration fee of Rs 1000 from each participant in the trials. The GFI will allow a gymnast, with a specific injury, illness or unusual circumstance, which prohibits the gymnast from participating in the selection trials, to make a representation to GFI for consideration for Asian Games selection. Such a representation has to be made with the fee.

It is quite possible that each of the 30 gymnasts in the National camp will make such an ‘unusual circumstance’ representation, forcing the selection committee to consider them for inclusion in the team for the Asian Games. That will leave the dozens of hopefuls who will spend a small fortune in reaching Pune with just the experience of participating in the trials.

Meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association Secretary General Rajeev Mehta indicated at a media conference on Saturday that IOA is awaiting a letter from the Ministry requesting it to select the gymnastics team (and the archery, golf and taekwondo squads) since its NSF is not recognised by the Ministry. “The Ministry refused to permission to send these teams,” he was quoted as saying.

The National Olympic Committee has often cited autonomy, dictated by the Olympic Charter, each time the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has presented its view on the administration of IOA and the National Sports Federations. It is curious, therefore, that Mehta has suggested that IOA will act on the direction of the Ministry and form ad-hoc committees to select the team.

It seems that Mehta has forgotten that the Gymnastics Federation of India got the International Gymnastics Federation to stop a bid by IOA to select the team for the Commonwealth Games. The parties have has had ample time to resolve the dispute but appear to have made little effort in ensuring that the gymnasts do not suffer because of the prevailing confusion.

Such a conundrum could easily have been avoided if GFI, IOA and Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports had sat down to find a resolution to the vexed issue. It is not as if they have had only the last three months to get down to bringing things on track. Each of these entities has spent nearly two years in perpetrating status quo.

The genesis of the trouble dates back to the last GFI elections held in New Delhi on 12 August 2015. Justice (retd) PK Bhasin was appointed by the Delhi High Court to act as the Returning Officer. IOA had deputed Haryana Athletics Association’s HS Bhadu as its observer while the Ministry sent RK Saxena as its observer.

The elections were not without drama as the Returning Officer rejected the nomination of 13 candidates for having submitted incomplete forms. His rejection was notified on 6 August. A full five days later, the Delhi High Court rejected an application to over-rule the Returning Officer’s decision and did not permit the 13 to contest the elections to be held the next day.

On 29 September 2015, the Gymnastics Federation of India sought Delhi High Court intervention to secure recognition from IOA and the Ministry. As per the Delhi High Court order, the IOA counsel has told the Court that IOA had deputed an observer and the elected body had already been recognised. Clearly, that has not happened.

It is a pity that despite being told by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in August 2016 to resolve the crisis in the Gymnastics Federation of India within three weeks, the Indian Olympic Association Secretary-General has not ensured that the task is complete. What’s more, the GFI withdrew a petition it had filed against Rajeev Mehta on 22 February this year.

If the Indian Olympic Association can engage in talks with the International Ski Federation (FIS) and secure FIS approval for its plan for interim governance of the Winter Games Federation of India, there is no reason why IOA cannot accept the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) assertion that it recognises the GFI under the leadership of Sudhakar Shetty and Ranjeet Vasava.

The sooner this is done, the better it will be for the gymnasts. At least they will not be taken for a ride and live in false hope that by travelling to Pune and paying to compete in the open trials being held by the Gymnastics Federation of India, they stand the chance of being selected for the Indian team heading to the Asian Games.

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Updated Date: Aug 17, 2018 13:54:28 IST

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