Kabaddi is one of the fastest growing sport in the world and is a sport that is only second to cricket in its native India.
The popularity of kabaddi in India also means the sports can be exploited financially. The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) and the Indo International Premier Kabaddi League (IIPKL) are among the numerous professional leagues that have spawned in India in recent years. Among these the PKL, an initiative between a private entity – Mashal Sports Pvt Ltd and the Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI), was initiated first and has turned out to be a lucrative venture following the entry of broadcast partners and part owners Star TV.
But, the sports itself has been embroiled in unending controversies in India that has also seen the AKFI being suspended since 2018. The federation was put under a court appointed administrator because of various indiscretion including nepotism in appointing the leadership.
The main role of the administrator was to conduct a new election of the office bearers but after two year it is still wanting.
The AKFI is affiliated with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) as well as the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF) and the Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF). But neither IKF nor the AKF are the sole governing bodies for the sports internationally, resulting in an unenviable situation in India.
There are numerous national and international associations registered in India for the sports. Apart from the AKFI, other national level associations for the sports registered in India include the New Kabaddi Federation, All India Kabaddi Federation, Kabaddi Federation of India and Indian Amateur Kabaddi Federation.
At the International level, apart from the IKF, the World Amateur Kabaddi Federation, World Kabaddi Federation and the International Amateur Kabaddi Federation are all registered in India, albeit only on paper. Given more time and leeway more kabaddi associations may mushroom in India.
Another organisation, World Kabaddi, is the only body registered outside of India and currently has more than 50 member countries around the world.
While the Indian government still recognizes the AKFI and in turn their governing bodies namely the IKF, questions on the legitimacy of the IKF itself is being raised.
The formation of the IKF was mooted in 2004 during the Mumbai World Cup invitational tournament. The IKF was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee in 2006 with Janardhan Singh Gehlot and Jayaram Anthaya Shetty as First Directors.
Gehlot, is also the current president of the IKF as well as the AKF. He was the former president of the AKFI and was barred from any association with the AKFI together with his appointed successor Dr Mridul Bahduria, who also happens to be his wife.
Gehlot had wanted to appoint himself as the permanent chairman of the AKFI and with it the right to represent the AKFI at the international level. With the Indian courts denying Gehlot from the same, can he still be sitted in the IKF as a representative of Indian kabaddi.
In normal circumstances, he should have vacated his position as the president of the IKF. But herein lies the deceit.
While the IKF gives an outlook that it was a legitimate governing body with elections held for office bearers, Gehlot’s position in the IKF is permanent.
He is one of the three current directors of the company registered as IKF and can only be removed by a majority of the directors and not by any vote by the national kabaddi associations.
The other two directors of the IKF are Gehlot’s own son Tejasvi and Deoraj Chaturvedi, who is the now attached with the court appointed administrator.
A fourth director Kesani Gnaneshwar had a fallout with Gehlot. He resigned from his directorship and is now among those who are hoping to stop the Gehlot dynasty from keeping control of kabaddi.
Ironically, Tejasvi’s position as the president of the Rajasthan State Kabaddi has been brought to an end by another court case. He is currently appealing the decision and a failure to do so will derail Gehlot’s maneuvering to get his son appointed as the AKFI President.
The Board of Directors, according to Article 48 of their Memorandum of Association M&A), may co-opt a maximum of two members from the general membership to the Board.
Neither the current secretary of the federation Yeong Hak Yoon of Korea nor any members “elected” at their last general body are members of the Board. Former treasurer Ashok Das quit the body after being kept in the dark of the IKF accounts and was also not a member of the Board.
Jayaram one of the founder directors together with Gehlot said that he had never resigned from the IKF but to his surprise has been removed from the Board and as the founder member.
“Till date I have not given any resignation and I have not received any communication from the IKF Board of Directors,” said Jayaram.
Clause 17 of the M&A states that founder members shall be permanent Advisory Board members of the IKF.
The IKF is in fact now run as a private entity belonging to Gehlot and his appointees only. They do not even need to present their accounts to the general membership.
Clause 49 of the M&A also defines that the affair of the federation is managed only by the Board of Directors and can even decide on their own remuneration for carrying out their duties as Directors.
Furtherance to this, questions are also being raised on IKF’s role in the conduct of the PKL.
For many, the impression was that the PKL being a venture between the AKFI and the promoters and the IKF being the sanctioning body.
This seems to be the case when one look at the contract between AKFI and Marshal Sports. In consideration of the rights granted by the AKFI to conduct the league, the promoters agreed to pay the AKFI as much as one Crore rupees (USD136,879) from the second season onwards. This figure was to have been increased by 35% upon extension of the contract.
The role of the IKF was just as a sanctioning body. It was Mridul, who had signed the extension of the contract on behalf of the AKFI in 2017, witnessed by IKF director Deoraj.
With the court order quashing the election of Mridul soon after, is the contract documentation still legally binding on either party?
The Delhi High Court appointed AKFI administrator retired judge SP Garg was recently still talking about the problems of hosting this season’s PKL. And it was not because of the validity of the contract but because of the problems caused by Covid-19.
Recent revelation of the audited accounts of the IKF also shows that the organisation has been receiving several times more than what the AKFI receives. The money is seemingly transferred to the IKF through a third party to avoid direct link between the IKF and the promoters.
In 2018, the IKF’s income was INR 56,668,544 (USD775,163.92) and it was INR 47,718,523 (USD 652,737.38) the previous year.
The lack of oversight on AKFI and its governing body the IKF in India is a matter of grave concern. But the authorities themselves do not seem to have full grasp of the problems at hand.
Indian opposition Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor called on the Government of India and Sports Ministry for better promotion of kabaddi and wanted to know the steps taken for the inclusion of kabaddi at the Olympics.
The Sports Ministry, in a written reply to him, said it hasn’t pushed the Asian countries for kabaddi’s inclusion in the Olympics and that it was the job of the IKF to do so. It is surprising that the Ministry was still recognizing the IKF, when federation’s president has been declared persona-non-grata by the Indian courts themselves.
That a person, who does not represent a country is allowed to hold high ranking position in international organization in itself is baffling. To further compound the issue Gehlot’s secretary in the AKF, Rana Mohammad Sarwar of Pakistan has been banned from entering India for many years now. The AKF is also registered in India.
All the international bodies for the sport including the IKF are not recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the relevant international organisations. And IKF’s standing and credibility does not put them in any position of strength internationally.
The Ministry was right in saying that it was the job of the international body to look into the matter of Olympic inclusion. Surprisingly though, the Minister Kiren Rijju had on numerous occasion given the impression that his Ministry was working towards Olympic inclusion.
In April this year, he had said that the ultimate aim of the country was to have kabaddi included in the Olympics during his opening speech at the Online Coaches Knowledge Enhancement session organised by the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
A few months earlier during an interview with the KBD Live programme at Star Sports Studio, he even claimed that the Indian government would try to push for the inclusion of Kabaddi in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
The statement was made despite the fact that the timeline for inclusion of kabaddi into the 2024 Olympics had already long expired.
While the IKF may have a healthy bank balance, the organisations legality is still very much in question both in India and internationally. They are in no position to take the game to the Olympics.
The IKF have been falsely giving the impression that they are consistently scoring Lonas, but in fact they have been All-Out for a long time now.