Coming soon -- a new sports code that targets VIPs, voting lobbies

File photo of the closing ceremony of the Asian Athletics Championships held at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar in July 2017. DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

The newest version of a national sports code that is far more stringent and wide-ranging than the 2011 version awaits a final notification from the Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs. Should it go through -- and all it needs is the minister's clearance -- it would be the most forward-looking and inclusive piece of sports governance seen in India.

Its provisions to exclude VIPs from sports administration will -- while ruffling the feathers of some of India's most powerful people -- also mark the first step towards improved governance and transparency in the running of Indian sports federations.

Sports Minister Vijay Goel, with whom the code rests, has declared that the code will be official and in the public domain by the end of September. All that's left to be done, he says, for the code to be put in place is "discussions with stakeholders", who happen to be "mostly the federations."

Other than age limits, tenure limitations and cooling-off periods for officials, the new code -- the draft available with ESPN calls it the National Code for Good Governance in Sports 2017 (NCGGS2017) -- also disqualifies ministers at the centre and the states, MPs, MLA and MLCs, as well as 'government servants' from being board members or office-bearers in the Indian Olympic Association or national sports federations and their members and affiliates.

Those who fall into these categories -- what the NCGGS2017 calls a "disqualification event" -- include Praful Patel, who has been All India Football Federation (AIFF) president from 2009 but is a Member of Parliament. Also liable for disqualification would be newly elected MP Amit Shah, the BJP president who currently heads the Gujarat Cricket Association, a voting member of the BCCI. The head of Indian badminton, Hemanta Biswa Sarma, is a cabinet minister in Assam and the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is headed by BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. Both would have to give up their positions.

Also, if and when they are removed from office, they cannot run the federation through their relatives as proxy candidates, as the code stipulates that no "immediate relative" of a disqualified official can hold office for four years after a "disqualification event" has taken place.

Even though many of Goel's political colleagues and associates could face the axe, he remained optimistic, saying he had no doubt that the federations would fall in line with the new version of the code.

"Of course they will agree ... the atmosphere has changed. We (the sports ministry) are working like patrons for all the federations," Goel told ESPN. He said he wanted the code to be applied across state associations down the line - a formidable ambition, given the opacity and obstinacy of sports officialdom in India. "I want to take this [code] to the state level and the federations will be with me," he said. "Don't imagine they won't listen. They know that there is a minister who has taken a keen interest in the work and is working hard, they won't stop him."

When asked about the possible resistance from the many long-serving, powerful sports officials in India, Goel said he was sure of tackling their objections. "They (federation officials) will have to give me arguments [for objecting to some clauses]. I will ask them, what is your reason against this? What do you want? And I am also reasonable."

But what's the big deal about the sports code? Why does its arrival, progression and formalization matter? Here's a guide:

What is the code?

The original sports code was a set of guidelines established in 2011, ensuring that national sports federations (NSFs) dependent on government funding were made accountable and transparent. Its focus was to regulate election procedures, membership criteria and make the NSFs provide accounts of the aid received from the government and make it amenable to the RTI Act. The code's first success was in December 2012, when the sports ministry de-recognised two federations -- archery and boxing -- for manipulation of its elections. The code's validity was then upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2014.

So why a new one? What's wrong with the 2011 version now that it has been approved by the courts? Nothing. The NCGGS2017 will replace the existing National Sports Development Code of India 2011 (NSDC 2011) after it is notified by the sports ministry.

How did the new one come about?

The 2017 code had an unexpected and surprising arrival. On January 5, 2017, the sports ministry released a statement saying that new nine-member committee had been formed to study the existing sports governance framework as well as "recent issues relating to sports governance" and to "make recommendations on bringing out a comprehensive National Sports Development Code across sports disciplines."

The only "recent issue" relating to sports governance at the time was the Supreme Court's dismissal, a few days before this, of two top BCCI officials and the institution of a Committee of Administrators to implement the court-prompted reforms within the BCCI. That was the context in which the new code came into being.

Will this code supercede and dilute the strict orders issued by the Supreme Court against the BCCI?

It doesn't look like it. The NCGGS2017 means to provide "mandatory minimum governance standards and norms" for Indian sports bodies. These standards are derived from the Olympic Charter, earlier sports governance bills and codes and "applicable Supreme Court and High Court judgments in India."

So what's new in the code?

The boldest reinvention of the NCGGS2017 doesn't pertain to age or tenure, for that is established already. It's the disqualification events for politicians and bureaucrats that's the real establishment-buster: no minister (of cabinet or state, or deputy minister) of the central or state government, Member of Parliament or State Legislative Assembly or 'government official' holding "such office or position" can be either official or board member of any National Olympic Committee or national sports association. This one may never survive 'stakeholder' scrutiny because remember, turkeys usually do not vote for Christmas.

There is also the complete overhaul of the electoral college for the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), whose voting members have also included amorphous state-level 'Olympic associations' like the Maharashtra Olympic Association or the Andaman & Nicobar Olympic Association. The NCGGS2017 dictates that the only national sports federations (bodies that run Olympic disciplines in the country like AIFF, WFI, All-India Tennis Association) can be the voting members in the IOA, and only state sports associations have full-member voting rights in their national sports federations.

What about age and tenure?

The 2017 code follows on from the 2011 code, which focused on registration and election procedure. The age limit for office-bearers is still 70 and above, while the tenure restrictions are two consecutive terms of four years each for an office bearer with a four-year cooling-off period to follow. The president of every association is allowed three terms totalling 12 years and after that must leave sports administration. During the tenure of any official, no immediate relatives can hold a position in an NSF. And neither can they do so during an official's cooling-off period.

Any loopholes?

There's a huge one about 22 pages in. It says that the government can "relax" provisions of the code "as a special exemption where considered necessary and expedient for the promotion of sports and sportsperson" or to "remove difficulties". While it says every case must be "guided by and not inconsistent with good governance and ethical conduct", what chance this clause will not be abused -- or attempted to be -- by officials addicted by power and control?

So what happens now?

All that is needed is for the sports ministry to issue a notification signed by Minister Goel, which states that the NCGGS2017 is now in place and will be set in motion when it comes to re-registering the federations. Simple as that.