April 24, 2008

Sting operation vindicates “professional mourners”

By H Natarajan

Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman philosopher and orator had said: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murder is less to fear.”

Substitute “nation” with “Indian hockey” and you will appreciate Cicero’s thoughts on corruption in the context of the rot that has set into the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) and as a consequence into game in India.

The sting operation by a private TV channel that exposed IHF secretary-general, Kandaswamy Jothikumaran, accepting bribe to include a young player in the national team has not exactly come as a shock to insiders who were shouting hoarse thus far but without any proof. KPS Gill had dismissed players critical of the IHF as “professional mourners”, but with Jotikumaran getting caught in the act, the aggrieved players have been vindicated.

Jothikumaran has stepped down, although crying that he is innocent and that he was “framed” but KPS Gill, like after India failed to qualify for the first time in history for the Olympics, remains unaffected by calls to step down as the IHF chief which he has been running like his personal fiefdom. KPS has chosen to ignore the call of even the Sports Minister and namesake, MS Gill.

Jotikumaran does not have a squeaky-clean past. At the Olympic qualifier in Barcelona in 1996, he was suspected to be the mastermind in allegedly fixing a match between India and Malaysia – a goalless draw that kept out Canada. Anand Philar, a friend, former colleague and an insightful hockey writer who has traveled with the team worldwide, was an eye-witness. He says Jotikumaran merely laughed when he Anand pleaded with him to stop the farce. “Only a few Indian players were in the loop regarding the fixed match while coach Cedric D’Souza was kept in the dark. That night, Cedric wept like a child in my presence, heaping abuse on Jothikumaran while declaring that it was the “end of Indian hockey”, reveals Anand. “In the event, the team was split down the middle. I traveled with the team back to India and during the flight, I was a privy to some horror stories regarding the fixed match. The players directly involved in match-fixing, received lucrative invitations to play in the Malaysian league,” he adds.

If the Olympic sport of hockey in India is tainted by corruption then it must be said that the International Olympic Committee itself has had lived with a history of corruption charges some of which has been documented by Andrew Jennings in his book, the 'Lords of the Rings - Olympic Corruption'. Two years back Jennings also investigated several allegations of bribery within FIFA.

With crass commercialization making inroads into sports, administrators – as much as players – find themselves lured by baits of instant - although unfair - riches. That’s one of the major reasons why politicians hang on to plum positions in various sports bodies in India.

The KPS Gill-Jotikumaran rein of terror has been on for 14 years in which time Indian hockey has taken a precipitous fall. While Jotikumaran has been finally forced to quit, KPS continues to show complete disdain for accountability.

The IHF has angered the FIH, the apex body for the sport worldwide. It was unhappy with the way Ric Charlesworth was treated by the IHF. The FIH also warned that Indian coach Joaquim Carvalho and his support staff had violated the code of conduct by their unrestrained attack of umpiring at the Olympic qualifiers in Chile and left themselves open to sanctions. The FIH is also concerned with the functioning of the IHF and has warned that India could lose the right to hold 2010 World Cup.

KPS Gill has to go. That is the first step toward ushering in an era of change.

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