IOA's Athletes' Commission fails to find its voice - Hindustan Times
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IOA's Athletes' Commission fails to find its voice

ByAvishek Roy, New Delhi
Feb 29, 2024 11:15 PM IST

No official meeting has been held after April last year due to the unavailability of members.

The Indian Olympic Association's Athletes' Commission (AC), which came into existence with the promise of raising the voice of athletes in Indian sport, has been lying dormant. No official meeting has been held after April last year due to the unavailability of members. The committee did meet in January but failed to form a quorum.

Boxing champion Mary Kom addresses the Youth for Quality Bharat Festival 2024, at Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi (ANI)
Boxing champion Mary Kom addresses the Youth for Quality Bharat Festival 2024, at Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi (ANI)

"You have to ask the IOA. As an ex-officio member of IOC, I have been writing to them and trying to push it at my level," said Abhinav Bindra, the Beijing Olympics gold medallist shooter, when asked about the virtually non-functional AC.

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The 10-member AC has MC Mary Kom as the chairperson and Sharath Kamal as vice-chairperson. The commission came into existence in November 2022 and played a crucial role in the election of the IOA as it selected the 'sportspersons of outstanding merit' that included Usha, who became the IOA president. Since its inception, only two official meetings have been held under vice-chairperson Sharath Kamal. The chairperson and vice chairperson of AC are also voting members of the IOA’s executive council.

The IOC lays great emphasis on having a fully active athletes commission that can make athletes part of decision-making process within the National Olympic Committees (NOC). IOC sends grants through the NOC for the AC. The newly-drafted IOA constitution, which was cleared after consulting the IOC, charted out rules and regulations of an athlete's commission and made it mandatory to have such commission in every national sports federation in the country.

However, things have hardly moved in that direction. In the last one year, wrestlers have faced numerous issues due to a suspended federation. A constructive AC could have played an important role in addressing them but it turned a deaf ear to their problems.

"I hope it becomes active because it's very important that athlete representation is given importance in India. Athletes can support the administration in many ways bringing the athletes perspective to the table. It is very important to bring forward the athletes' voice so I do hope that the IOA under its new administration and new presidency (PT Usha) , who is herself an athlete, gives this area importance," said Bindra.

AC chairperson MC Mary Kom did respond to calls. Another member, six-time winter Olympian Shiva Keshvan said that athletes need to take the forum seriously.

"It is high time that athletes take their responsibilities in the AC seriously if they want to strengthen athletes' voices within the sports administration." said Keshavan.

When the AC met a year ago in April, differences surfaced over a statement on showing solidarity with the protesting wrestlers. It became a tipping point in the functioning of the independent body.

The IOA, which is now well represented by the sportspersons, has not helped matters. IOA is responsible for appointing dedicated staff for AC and giving them space in the IOA office. AC also needs to get the grant set aside for it by the IOC and the Olympic Council of Asia. That did not happen as IOA's governance was crippled due to the non-appointment of a chief executive officer for more than a year. When the CEO was finally appointed in January, there was division within the executive board of IOA over his appointment.

The AC had told IOA that setting up an athletes' body in NSF's is mandatory. The IOC had given a one-time exception to IOA allowing federations to appoint athletes representatives for IOA AC election, which should be done by athletes' bodies in NSFs.

Non-participation of members

During the April meeting of the AC, members were requested to be active. Since some of them are current athletes there is provision of holding hybrid or virtual meetings, yet it has failed to meet even four times during a calendar year as required in its regulations.

The IOC's concern that the chairperson is required to be present and active was also shared. "In case members feel that they do not have time for the commission,

replacements may be sought from the same sport," it was discussed as per the minutes of the meeting.

There is provision of removal or replacement of members in case of failure of any member of the commission to perform the duties as per the regulations. Such vacancies can be filled by inducting the person who received the next highest number of votes in the elections.

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