According to recent news reports the Indian Olympic Commission will continue to be disbarred from the International Olympic Association, due to its refusal to accept a “contentious” clause that prevents “charge-sheeted officials from taking part in administration or contesting elections.” (read here, and here) The reason is not difficult to fathom: “Its secretary-general Lalit Bhanot faces corruption charges in a 2010 Commonwealth Games-related case. India was banned in December 2012 after Mr Bhanot was elected.”
The reason the IOA refuses to accept this clause is apparently because the IOA has to comply with the law of the land:
“We can’t go beyond the law of our land. We will make our constitution according to the law of the land. We have clearly told the two-member IOC delegation that we can’t go beyond the law of the land.” (Sourced from here)
Some questions need to be asked:
a. Does incorporating this clause of the IOC violate Indian laws?
b. What prevents the IOA from incorporating standards HIGHER than what Indian laws provide?
c. Is there any special restriction placed on the IOA by the Indian government which prevents it from incorporating such a provision in its rules and regulations?
A short answer to all these questions is as follows: No, Nothing, and No.
According to the Constitution of the IOA, it is a private society registered under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860. Here are two clauses relevant to the current debate:
“3. To enforce all rules and regulations of the International Olympic Committee and the Indian Olympic Association and not to indulge in or associate with any activity which is in contradiction with the Olympic Charter.
To follow, observe and uphold the primacy and domination of the Olympic Charter in case of any contradiction between it and the rules, bye-laws and the constitution framed by the Indian Olympic Association.”
The Rules and Regulations of the IOA also list its voting members. There are no government members or nominees with voting rights. There is therefore no governmental pressure on it to resist the changes the IOC is asking it to make. According to its own rules, one of the functions of the General Assembly of the IOA is to enforce the rules and regulations of the IOC.
The IOA is therefore a private, i.e. non-governmental organisation that is not subject to governmental supervision, beyond the state’s supervisory powers to regulate sports associations in India. It is free agree to or sign any clause/contract/agreement that is not prohibited by law. In fact, as Clause 3 above states, one of the objects of the IOA is to enforce ALL rules and regulations of the IOC, and to not indulge in any activity which contradicts the Olympic Charter. It is then, quite clearly violating its own objects and its rules by not agreeing to the IOC’s new clause requiring charge-sheeted people be barred from the administration of the IOA.
Furthermore, the defense of acting in compliance with Indian laws can at best be described as disingenuous. The IOA as a private entity is merely an authorised agent of the IOC, who has recognized the IOA as its exclusive agent within India. The clause requiring that charge-sheeted people not be part of the IOA is a contractual term which the IOA has to agree to, in order to continue to be IOC’s recognized agent in India. No law, rule, regulation, authority, apart from the self-interest of some of its members in India prevents the IOA from agreeing to the IOC condition.
The question of course is, what is the cost of this self-interest? According to one news report, this is what Abhinav Bindra had to say about the issue:
“It is humiliating for us. When we are travelling abroad to take part in a tournament and representing the country and people ask what sort of system do you have back in India. It is a joke.” (Sourced from here)
What is the appropriate public policy response? There are some who would advocate state control over such sports associations. That however has not always yielded great results. Should this issue be left to the IOA, its constituents and sports persons under the IOA banner, with the hope that once things get even worse, someone within will step up and clean the mess? There are no quick-fix answers, and maybe the shame and embarrassment of not being able to participate in the next Olympics, and collective pain of all the athletes who are unable to participate will create a virtuous push for reform. The best, short-term fix would of course be for our police and judiciary to wake up and once and for all either convict or acquit the charge-sheeted.