Abhinav Bindra proposes 5-point guideline to propel India's mission of becoming a sporting nation
Ahead of this 40th birthday, Abhinav Bindra, India's first-ever individual Olympic gold medallist, draws focus on five key issues from an athletes' perspective in a heartfelt appeal to ensure India's dream of becoming a sporting nation has to come true.
Ahead of his 40th birthday, Abhinav Bindra, India's first-ever individual Olympic gold medallist, appealed to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the Government of India to give the country's athletes what they deserve in terms of governance. Bindra also proposed a five-point guideline for the IOA as a member of the Olympic Athletes Commission.
"So much has changed in Indian sport over the last ten years and yet a fair bit has not," Bindra said in a statement released on Twitter after a joint meeting was held at the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, following tensions between the IOC and the IOA.
"What is at stake here? It is the sporting trajectory of 17.5% of the world's population. There has never been a more exciting time in Indian sport with the best ever performances of our athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The level of government support has also been excellent and is at levels not seen before across a wide variety of sport. The prospect of India as a sporting nation is very real and one gets the feeling that we are only getting started. The athletes and the public deserve a strong, responsible, skilled and autonomous institutional structure to take this mission forward," said Bindra providing a reason for proposing guidelines to the IOA.
The IOC, on September 8, issued a suspension threat whereby the IOA would be suspended if it failed to hold elections this year.
Following are the five key issues highlighted by Abhinav Bindra that need immediate attention:
1. Athlete representation in governance, and athlete rights and responsibilities declaration
First, on the matter of athlete representation and athlete rights, it is essential that the athletes' voice is understood and reflected in decision making and governance in a concerted and specific manner. There must be a concerted effort to establish and work with Athletes Commissions within the NOC and all NOC members. Athlete representatives, both must have the chance to express the athlete perspective and participate in institutional decision making at all levels from the working group level to general assemblies and the executive board. There must be male and female athletes represented in this group. A majority of these representatives must be elected, and some can be nominated based on pre-established criteria. Creating athlete's commissions and putting them into operation will take time, but these must be operationalised in a time bound manner with commitment. It is a matter of compliance with the Olympic Charter as well. Additionally, the athlete rights and responsibilities declaration must be adopted and implemented into the IOA constitution.
2. Rationalized IOA membership structure, including athlete membership
Second, in terms of delineating and limit the membership structure to permit only Olympic/CWG/Asiad concerned NSFs to constitute voting membership, this is a vital step to ensure accountability. Voting members must be those who comply with the Olympic Charter, Sports Code and have Athletes Commissions in place. Others such as State Olympic Associations could be included as members without voting rights. The emphasis must be on ensuring that a full set of reforms and governance standards are implemented down to the bottom of the pyramid, including presence of an athletes' commission. Further, individual IOA membership should be made available to a limited number of eminent athletes so that a-pathway for retired Olympians and other athletes to join administration is created. We must also ensure that there is more balance in gender representation in the membership and also in governance as the current representation is far from adequate.
3. Clear responsibility framework with checks and balances in governance
Third, the IOA Constitution must clearly delineate the relative powers and responsibilities (and limitations on these) of the IOA general body, ExCo, Office Bearers and Commissions and Committees. The general body should only be able to delegate powers to ExCo as a whole and not to any Office Bearer(s). Clarity in this framework will ensure designated roles and limitations that act as checks and balances, and will also ensure that critical stakeholders like athletes are not excluded from access to information, decision making and governance.
4. Operational and financial integrity
The fourth point is on operational and financial integrity and transparency. Here, the IOA Constitution must have clear structures to ensure responsibilities are in fact carried out and that the decision making is accountable and transparent. This includes internal and external audits, reporting and public transparency. From an athletes' perspective, this will ensure that the institutional checks and balances can play out effectively and will enhance athletes' confidence in the system which is there to support them in their career on and off the field of play.
5. Institutional mechanism for dispute resolution and athlete welfare
Finally, the IOA's institutional structures must be put in place and operationalised. This includes a Dispute Resolution Chamber, Ombudsman, Ethics Officers, Welfare and Safe Guarding Officer and similar posts. Dispute resolution, ethics compliance and safe guarding measures are a critical element of good governance and athletes must be provided effective and cost-efficient fora to have their grievances and complaints addressed.
Imploring all stakeholders to take the reform process forward together, keeping in mind the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship, Bindra added, "We must institutionalize the-letter, spirit and practice of good governance in the best interest of our sport and athletes. We recognise that effective implementation of these measures will take time but we should not look for easy or quick fix solutions. We are at the crossroads now and have the opportunity to take meaningful measures to address issues that we have faced for so long."
Highlighting that the dreams of fellow and aspiring athletes are at the heart of everything he has stated in his statement, the Olympic gold medallist added, "Dreams are the essence of elite sport. The athlete's life is one of singular focus, sacrifice and hardship. It is a world where families take loans to support careers which are naturally short, many lives are put on hold, risks are taken. Time is crucial in this world and many may not get second chances. Athletes need all the help they can get on this journey. These collective dreams need encouragement and protection. Those who compete can never be guaranteed victory, but they must at least be assured of good governance and the fair shot that this brings them."
In conclusion, Abhinav Bindra said, "I am hopeful that, collaboratively and with focus, we can give India and her athletes what they deserve in terms of governance. This also gives me great confidence that I will not be back here for my 50th birthday on similar business."