Archers living on hope and a prayer

Nilankur Das

Kolkata, Dec. 3 -- When the archery contingent left for the London Games, it was looked at as one of the few disciplines which could earn the country more than one Olympic medal.

The dismal performance and an unprecedented election, three months later, for the post of the Archery Association of India (AAI) president has left the sport on the verge of being de-recognised by the government.

And though the federation is confident that like cricket, which fends for itself, archery will thrive without government funds, archers are spending sleepless nights. The sports ministry has issued a show-cause notice, asking the federation to furnish details of the members elected on November 9 at the AAI annual general meeting. The federation has been given a 10-day deadline to reply and it expires this week.

"We have asked the federation to furnish details of the elected officials to ascertain whether anyone has violated the government guidelines on age and tenure," said a ministry official.

Blatant violation

The Sports Code, which former sports minister Ajay Maken had put in place for all federations funded by the government, does not allow any official at a particular post for more than two four-year terms. It also sets the maximum age of an official at 70.

Both AAI president Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who has also been the acting president of the Indian Olympic Association since the arrest of Suresh Kalmadi, and senior vice-president Tarlochan Singh flout these guidelines. While Malhotra is 81 and has been the unopposed president for the last 40 years, Singh is in office for more than two terms.

In a recent development, Malhotra has said that he has sent the election details to the ministry.

This would mean that archery will not receive government funding which could affect national camps and international participation. Government sanction could also mean that archers will not be able to use the Sports Authority of India (SAI) facilities.

Winless situation

"When we voted for our president, we knew that if he was elected, it would violate the Sports Code," said Rupesh Kar, AAI joint secretary. "We also knew that the government would try arm-twisting tactics and stop its funding of archery. What does de-recognition mean? Will the government stop us from sending the national team to the Asian Games."

Former AAI secretary-general Pareshnath Mukherjee, who had stepped down taking responsibility for the archers' disappointing show in London and had repeatedly warned his colleagues not to violate government guidelines at the elections, put up a brave front.

"The government cannot de-recognise archery. It would be unfair," said Mukherjee. "The Sports Code is not a Bill. It has not been passed in Parliament. In reality, sports is not on the Concurrent List. It is a State subject and the Centre cannot have absolute authority. But yes, government provides almost 70% of the funds needed to run archery and the rest is given by Sahara."

Hoping for respite

Kar believes that the Sports Code would be a closed chapter the moment power switches hands at the Centre. "We are in talks with private firms and generating funds for national camps and exposure trips will be taken care of at least a year after which general elections are due. We have to take a leaf out of cricket," he said.

The government had spent close to Rs. 34 crore on the squad in the build up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games and just being a 'little proactive' is unlikely to fetch that much.

Kar, however, failed to answer why even after almost a month since coming to power, the AAI was yet to submit its vision project Long Term Development Plan (LTDP) for the 2016 Olympics to SAI. "Our newly-elected secretary-general (Anil Kamineni) is in the US. He will be back in a couple of days and will meet the office bearers. After the Senior Nationals are over by end December, things will move quickly."

It is also not clear whether Sahara would continue its association with AAI now that Mukherjee, who brought the company on board, is not there.

"We have already lost four months since London. We can still wait for a couple of months for things to fall in order. But beyond that Indian archery will keep going backwards by a year for every month lost," said CWG gold medallist Rahul Banerjee.

(With inputs from Navneet Singh in New Delhi)

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.