A tragedy of errors by the Sports Ministry and Volleyball Federation

Volleyball has gained quite a lot of ground in India as a regional sport, particularly dominating the Southern part of the country as one of its most popular fields of play. In fact, in the state of Kerala, such is the popularity of the sport that it is akin to what cricket is to the rest of India. To put it another way, a cricketer from a state like Kerala is often celebrated as one successfully breaking stereotypes.

Consequently, it comes as no surprise that over the years, the Southern part of the country has contributed most to the National teams even when they were at their pinnacle. While never having had a stronghold in World level competitions, Indian Volleyball had been touted as quite the unassailable team within the South Asian and Asian circles at one point of time.

Sadly, those are the days that are behind is and now, the progress that the sport had promised to have the potential for, sadly remains incomplete. The reason, however, is nothing new. It teeters upon the age-old narrative that has plagued most Indian sports for the longest time- ugly skeletons in the closet of the governing body of the sport.

Back in December 2016, the expansion of Volleyball in India was handed a major setback by the International governing body for Volleyball.

The Volleyball Federation of India, the organisation at the helm of Indian volleyball, was handed a provisional ban by its parent body on the grounds of procedural incompetence. Following that, an ad-hoc President was announced before fresh elections for the top brass could be organised. But even that failed to go as planned.

In April, earlier this year, a petition moved by senior advocate Rahul Mehra sought to speed up the process of elections in the Volleyball Federation of India citing the organisation’s derecognisation by its parent world body as a major cause for concern. Fresh election would have gone a long way in the revocation of the current order by the FIVB which would have made it possible for the country to send a team to the Asian Games after the due process of selecting and training its athletes. But probably, that is not to be

In December 2017, it was announced that 2017 -18 National Volleyball Championship at Hyderabad stood postponed.

This announcement by the VFI predictably sent shockwaves through the community. It was like seeing the dream of the Asian Games being systematically dismantled right in front of ones eyes. The tournament eventually took place in February but far from corrective measures being taken, fresh fractions have now been uncovered within the organisation and, this time, it is a question of finances.

In a letter dated May 9, 2018, Ramavatar Singh Jakhar, the Seceretary General of the VFI and a man wio comes with his own baggage of controversies wrote to Shri AK Patro, the Under Secretary at the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. The subject of the letter was to highlight the discrepancies in the quoted grants amounts by the Ministry in its Annual Report and the ones quoted by the Volleyball Federation of India in their audited balance sheets.

To provide some context here, it must be prudent to mention here that Ramavatar Singh Jakhar himself is quite an unpopular figure in the circles that deal with the sport. His resignation from the administrative body has been quite sought after by rival factions and former players alike. Most recently, it was K Nandakumar who recently put up this plea and demand for Jakhar’s immediate resignation following when he filed a petition to request the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe into allegations of corruption and misuse of funds within the VFI.

Also read: The tragedy of Indian Volleyball

The appeal by Nandakumar proved to be successful. Following his petition, the Madras High Court ordered the CBI to quicken its investigations. “Documents relating to the inquiry have been sought for from the third respondent (Secretary, Sports-cum-Director General, Sports Authority of India). It is also represented by the third respondent, as per the request of CBI, that the documents sought for an inquiry by CBI have already been submitted,” the judge said. Hence, disposing of the petition, the judge ordered the Superintendent of Police, Head of Branch – ACB, CBI, to “expedite the inquiry and complete the same within reasonable time without much delay and dispose of the complaint as expeditiously as possible,” Nandakumar had been quoted as saying.

Coming to the matter at hand, former Volleyball player Sebastian George has an infamously high number of RTIs that he had filed regarding the usage of certain funds by the VFI. For instance, the VFI has four registered bank accounts and, out of those, the information of just one had been made public. It was only in January this year that the RTI bore some fruit albeit incomplete. The RTI also sought information about the specific uses of the Rs 47 lakh that had been allocated to VFI by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports for ‘certificate cases’. Furthermore, the whereabouts for the funds of the IVL Tournament, which was since cancelled, remained unknown.

A couple of questions for Mr Jakhar here.

Why has your letter come after the directive of the Madras High Court ordering the CBI to launch an investigation into the organisation? While amount from 2012-2016 have been quoted, aren’t these questions asking for an explanation into the matters of the Sports Ministry and the VFI quite late?

Secondly, why is there such a discrepancy in the accounts maintained by a National Sports Federation and the Sports Ministry? Whose fault is it? The Ministry’s? Is there a bigger collusion here? Where has the remaining money been put to use?

“Interestingly enough, grants from the MYAS did not stop even in the period that VFI was derecognised as an official Volleyball body. While this derecognition implied that Indian Volleyball players could not officially participate in international tournaments, one wonders where this allocated money was put to use.”

Thirdly, why does it take so long to reply to RTIs filed by Sebastian George to receive replies? In the quoted letter, this step by Jakhar comes after he was required by law to reply to the RTIs filed by Mr George. Can we consider this a victory? A sign that the scams which are allegedly being carried out with the VFI as a front might at last be brought to light and the perpetrators punished?

It might be remembered here that this internal feuding within the Federation has caused long drawn out problems in the path of progress of the game of Volleyball. The most recent example of this might be the Pro Volleyball League whose debut was delayed by roughly two years due to irreconcilable differences within the VFI. The recent financial partnership between the Federation and Baseline Ventures, however, has opened the doors for the tournament to finally take shape.

With so much going on in the Volleyball Federation of India, it is little wonder that the sport has stagnated.