September 26, 2020

Sports Development Act: Is it’s implementation fair to all?

10 min read

There is no denying that a sports association led by a well-connected or powerful leaders gets better and speedy treatment from the sports authorities. Issues related to such organisations get immediate attention from the Sports Ministry, its related agencies and even the mainstream media, while in other associations more problematic issues sometimes are left to fester without any resolution.

This happens in all countries and especially so when political patronage becomes the most important relevance factor for sports associations. It is a double edged sword that goes against natural justice, neutrality and fairness.

Three days ago, the Indian Sports Ministry was forced  to confront its own inability to implement its Sports Code in a fair and just manner. On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court forced the Sports Ministry to withdraw its provisional recognition to 54 national sports federations (NSF).

The Sports Ministry was seen as implementing the Sports Code arbitrarily by de-registering a number of federations while ignoring the same violations headed by powerful administrators.

Rahul Mehra, lawyer and sports clean-up activist, pointed this out in the High Court hearing after which the Sports Ministry was forced to derecognise several NSFs.

“Take the case of the rowing federation, which was derecognised because it allowed three votes per affiliated units. But the fencing association has the same irregularity in its constitution and yet it has been recognised,” Mehra told The Tribune. “They (Sports Ministry) look at political affiliations, clout and apply different yardsticks. Why isn’t the Sports Code applied uniformly?”

The decision comes on the back of a decade-long court case in relation to governance issues within the federations.

Among the provisions in the Sports Code, are the limitation of key office bearers term of office as well as age limitations. Even the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) itself does not adhere to all the regulations in the Code, citing Olympic guidelines.

Mehra alleged that “the IOA was trying to derecognise a lot of sports federations and simultaneously create parallel bodies while the sports ministry played ball.”

“The IOA’s modus operandi is they write a letter to the international federation of a particular sport, bring up certain disputes and piggy-backing on that, they call for the creation of a new body,” Mehra said, adding there were around five instances where this sequence ocurred. He accused IOA office-bearers of indulging in this “to create a suitable vote bank”. “The ministry was not stopping them,” said Mehra.

The order effectively means that the government will cease funding the activities of these NSFs, including practice camps and competitions. This will not have immediate impact as due to COVID-19, sporting activities have come to a standstill.

The government of the NSFs can still appeal the decision and try to have it reversed or obtain a stay order on it but the decision has put both the Sports Ministry and the IOA in the spotlight for their ineptness.

How different is it in Malaysia?  Is the Sports Development Act (SDA) being implemented fairly?

Former Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary Dato Sieh Kok Chi said that among other reasons, the increase of the number of sports from 28 to over 40, had also at times increased the inefficiency and effectiveness of the Sports Commissioner’s office.

“The original and official reason for having the SDA was to look after the governance and management of 28 or so Olympic Games sports. It followed the existing Societies Act. The Sports Commissioner, like the Registrar of Societies is the Registrar of Sports bodies and not a Sports Development Officer,” said Kok Chi.

He added that during the initial years, the Sports Commissioner’s Office did not have experienced staff and the Sports Commissioners were the picked from the Ministry.

“In fact up until today only three Sports Commissioners are full time grass roots sports officers. As a result of not having a sport culture, tradition, experience, and precedence, which take years to develop, the Sports Commissioner’s Office was not as efficient as other government departments,” he added.

Kok Chi said that it was unavoidable that issues relating to the powerful associations getting immediate attention when any problems arise with players, coaches or administration.

“This is something unavoidable and is accepted by all Malaysians. The officials of more powerful sports associations are often VVIPs and are very influential and often are personal friends of the officers in power. The only way for smaller and less powerful sports bodies is to literally ‘camp’ outside the SC’s office to draw their attention, to use socio-media to draw attention to their plights,” said Kok Chi.

Contrary to its name, the SDA is not about development of sports, but more of governance of sports administration. Under the SDA, the Sports Minister has unlimited power to take action against any sports associations when he deems it fit.

The Malaysia Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU) were the first national sports association to see the wrath of the Sports Ministry. They were de-registered for their “failure to properly develop the sports” and in its place the Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) was formed.

One key reason the drastic step was taken was to rid the MAAU of some of its key officials. However within a couple of years, the same officials, who were booted out returned to power in the new organisation.

Like the MAAU the Malaysia Taekwondo Association (MTA) was also de-registered and new body Taekwondo Malaysia was formed as a compromise after the matter was referred to the courts. However, the MTA is still a registered body.

The Lawn Tennis Association of Malaysia (LTAM) and the Malaysia Snooker and Billiard Federation (MSBF) were the other two national associations, de-registered and given a new lease of life.

But, not all these associations can be said to be success stories, as there are still infighting and undercurrent of unhappiness still plaguing some of them.

MSBF president Melvin Chia, who was also a member when it was de-registered said that there were still plenty of shortcomings with the SDA and its implementation.

“The rules are there to ensure proper governance but the implementation is lacking,” said Melvin.

He added that similar to law, the constitutions of association must also be reviewed regularly to keep up with the times.

“Those who genuinely want development want changes to take place for the right reason, but we also have to be wary of the those wanting changes to be made for personal agenda,” said Melvin.

He added that the Sports Commissioners Office must go back to basics and scrutinize each and every association.

“The is also the conflict and overlapping of the roles of the Sports Commissioner, National Sports Council and the OCM. This is especially so when it comes to arbitration and even organisation of events,” said Melvin.

The Automobile Association of Malaysia (AAM) was also de-registered by the Sports Commissioner’s Office and a new body, the Motorsport Association of Malaysia (MAM) was installed in its place.

Senior motorsport official Datuk Razak Dawood, who was also the former manager of the Proton Motorsport Rally Team, said that the SDA gave too much powers to the Minister.

“He has unilateral powers in deciding to de-register any sports body and can do it without any consultation with the relevant bodies,” said Razak.

Section 20 of the SDA while outlining how an association can be deregistered has one particular clause that gives the Minister unchecked power to deregister any association that he finds:

is hindering the development of the particular sport and it is in the public interest to revoke or suspend its registration;

Registration and de-registration of associations are a key implementation shortcomings that the Sports Commissioners Office need to seriously look into.

Take the case of the registration of state level kabaddi bodies. The Kabaddi Association of Kuala Lumpur (KAKL) was registered in 2004 while the Putrajaya Kabaddi Association was also registered recently.

However, the Sports Commissioners Office had also went ahead and registered the Federal Territory Kabaddi Association, without any representation from the regions representing the Federal Territory. Following official complains made, the Sports Commissioners Office had confirmed that the registration of the Federal Territory body was not in accordance to the law.

Yet, several years down the road, the Sports Commissioners Office has yet to act on their own directive to de-register the association.

Increasingly more sports associations are also taking up issues to the courts instead of the Sports Commissioners Office or the OCM, either due to the delay in getting it resolved or the reluctance of the bodies to come out with concrete resolutions. This is often because they do not want to get into the bad books of powerful and politically favoured officials.

Take the case of the Malaysia Karate  Federation (MAKAF), they have been embroiled in problems with their elections and governance. The federation is split into two factions now with both claiming to be the legally elected body.

Both factions have now taken injunctions against each other and basically at a standstill with neither having the legal authority to run the organisation.

It will be interesting to note how this matter would be resolved by the Sports Minister and his agencies as one of the factions is headed by a Governor of a Malaysian state.

It is a catch-22 situation for the Sports Commissioners Office as they are likely to be seen as biased with whichever decision they make. Something they could have avoided with quick intervention.

P. Thiagu, the president of the Putrajaya Karate Federation, who is a member of the rival faction said that they had always wanted the Sports Commissioners Office to resolve the issue.

“We never wanted to go to the Courts, It was incumbents, who decided on that first. I think the issue can be resolved easily if the Sports Commissioner’s Office just send a directive for a fresh elections of the organisation, based on the membership prior to the dispute, to be held. We will abide by that as well as the decision made by the membership,” said Thiagu.

While the SDA was approved in 1997 and amended in 2017, the regulations to implement it were still lacking.  This was also the reason why there has been haphazard and uneven implementation of the provision that requires events to get licensing from the Sports Commissioners Office before being held.

Some organisers are given leeway with late applications and sometimes no applications while other are penalized for the same problem.

In India, the Sports Code does not allow key office bearers to hold positions in more than one national level sports organisation. This is another problem within the Malaysian context, with some office bearers holding multiple key positions in different national organisations.

Jack of all trades, masters of none!

But like India, the implementation of the Sports Development Act in Malaysia still needs plenty of reworking and the Sports Ministry need to put this high on his agenda.

If the foundation is as weak as it is now, the building certainly will not be sturdy.

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