By Harihar Swarup
The transition has been relatively smooth. Enough for P T Usha to flash that trademark smile at everyone present at Olympic Bhavan, headquarters of Indian Olympic Association in Delhi. Dressed in a beige tussore salwar kameez with a smart floral jacket on a wintry Saturday, Usha walked into the history books once again—she became the first Olympian and woman to be IOA President. The 58-year-old, a multiple Asian Games gold medallist who came fourth in 400m hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, ushers an era of hope in Indian sport. An era where athletes administer the game, and do so for the betterment of Indian sport.
This was a race Usha ran alone—she was elected unopposed under the supervision of retired Supreme Court judge L. Nageswara Rao, whom the apex court appointed. The international Olympic Committee was following the election keenly; it had warned election of a possible suspension if elections were not held by December. The elections were due in December 2021, but were delayed as a new constitution had to be drawn up. This constitution included changes the Supreme Court had recommended, which muffed many longtime administrators..
Usha, currently BJP nominated Rajya Sabha member, will have her hands full. According to new structure outlined in the constitution, she will require a CEO to run daily affairs—the post of powerful sectary general has been scrapped. Elections were held for the post of joint secretary (female) and four executive council members. The veteran sports administrators were missing, but they are expected to provide “guidance” from background. Interestingly, the Equestrian Federation of India and the yachting Association of India, facing multiple cases regarding their Constitution and conduct, were relegated as association members and had no voting right.
“I am happy that today we have sportspersons in our executive council”, Usha said after taking over. “ I have never thought I would one day become an MP or IOA president, but the sportspersons and federations pushed me to stand for these elections.” She stressed that her tenure would be about “collective efforts”.
Her joint secretary Kalyan Choubey, also the all India Football Federation president did most of the talking. He emphasized that there needed to be “more transparency” in the working and finances of the IOA.
Usha, used to be the pressure of expectants during her days as a runner will face similar scrutiny as IOA president. As will the new IOA committee, especially now that it has several athletes on board.
Former IOA secretary general Randhir Singh gave a thumbs up to the new-look IOA. “It augurs well for the Olympic movement in India that sportspersons are coming into sports administration”, he said. “this is very important”.
He shrugged off concerns that the team lacked administrative experience, saying, “we are there for them. We will help them wherever needed, be it IOA or the OAC (International Olympic committee). For me, it must be easier to deal with sportspersons as I have also been one”. Singh, a former Olympian shooter, said the new IOA team has to shed the old mentality of grovelling before federation bosses. (IPA Service)