From Liberian president George Weah to Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, the list of sportsmen making a transition to politics is ever growing. While Weah was the first footballer to make it all the way top the top, Imran is not the first cricketer to become a country’s leader.
Cricketers Lester Bird and Grantley Herbert Adams were prime ministers of Antigua & Barbuda and the West Indies respectively. Another cricketer Vance Amory was the Premier of Saint Kitts and Nevis until 2017.
Former Prime Minister of Fji, Sitiveni Rabuka represented the island nation at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. Even the the notorious Ugandan president Idi Amin was a light heavyweight boxing champion in his youth.
Pele served as the Brazil Minister of Sport from 1995 to 2001. Filipino boxing living legend Manny Pacquiao is a Senator while World Athletics president and former Olympian Sebastian Coe served as a member of parliament in the 1990s and is now a member of the House of Lords. Australian hockey Olympic gold medallist Ric Charlesworth was the MP for Perth for a decade.
But, should politicians be allowed to lead sports organisations? This is one of the key issues that the Indian Sports Ministry wants to put a stop to as they look to update their national Sports Code.
In updating their 2011 Code, changes includes barring of ministers, members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies and government servants from holding office in the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and National Sports Federations (NSF) ; tenure restrictions and age cap of 70 years for office bearers.
The implementation of the restrictions have been rejected by the IOA as well as a number of NSFs. But the Sports Ministry does not seem to be backing down by much. They have now set up a special committee to look into the review of the proposals.
The 13-man committee includes several well known names – Olympic bronze-medallist shooter Gagan Narang, former football captain Bhaichung Bhutia, national badminton coach P. Gopi Chand, World Championships bronze-medallist long jumper Anju Bobby George. The expert committee will be headed by Supreme Court judge Justice (Retd.) Mukundakam Sharma as its chairman and representatives from the IOA as well as selected NSF.
To bring good governance, transparency and accountability in sports and to promote sports, an expert committee is constituted to review draft NSC. The committee is headed by a former Supreme Court Judge with former Olympians and representatives of Sports Federations as members. pic.twitter.com/0QsZkMEWxd— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) November 28, 2019
The IOA maintains that the code will put India at risk for a suspension from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
If implemented, the IOA and the NSFs will have six months to amend their constitutions as prescribed by the draft. And if implemented, it would also spell the end of the road for many current administrators, including those from the IOA.
Malaysian ministers were once barred from holding positions in sports organisation, but it was only a directive from the then Prime Minister.
Sports gives plenty of visibility for its leaders, hence the scramble for leaderships in many instances is not because of the love for sports , but for power and position.
While politicians lean towards sports in order to get much needed visibility, sports associations also look towards politicians in order to get financial stability for the organisation.
The symbiosis works when both parties keep their end of the bargain. But when personal interests and blind loyalties comes to play, the fragile relationship affect the sports itself.
Reducing the role of politicians may help strengthen sports oganisations, but it is not a guarantee. But is it all bad about politicians being in sports associations? In actual fact it is the politicking and not the politicians themselves.
Politicking can be defined as any activity undertaken for political reasons or ends, as campaigning for votes before an election, making speeches, etc., or otherwise promoting oneself or one’s policies.
It is not only the career politicians, who are masters in sports politicking, but also unscrupulous sports administrators from all walks of life. It is the political factionalism within sports organisations that leads to the unending problems in many organisations.
The recent fiascos with the elections of the Malaysian Hockey Federation (MHF) and the Malaysia Paralympic Council (MPM) were caused by, among others, political factionalism.While the fight to take control of an organisation stretches on, the athletes are the ones to suffer.
Take the case of the ongoing South Asian Games in Nepal’s capital Katmandu as an example. Indian archers, who had made a clean sweep of all the gold at the last Games. were among those unable to attend the multi-sport event this time. The reason being a power struggle with two factions that has forced the world body to suspend the Archery Association of India.
Sports politicking goes beyond just power struggles. It is also about those is power insisting on absolute loyalty from other office bearers as well the athletes themselves.
The shocking case of an Indonesian gymnast for not being a virgin is not an isolated case of athletes being dropped at the whims and fancies of sports administrators, which incidentally also must include coaches.
Athletes are expected not to question the decision making of the sports administrators. There has been numerous cases in Malaysia where athletes found themselves at the wrong end of justice after questioning the wisdom of office bearers.
Elected office bearers find themselves isolated because their are in a different “camp”. Some resort to sabotaging the others because they do not see eye-to-eye.
So you see, it is not about having politicians leading sports association. But it is about those elected, including politicians, whose endless politicking to promote themselves and their agenda, no matter how convoluted it is, that leads to problematic organisations.