Indian equestrian exuded signs of walking down the ‘revival’ road when it dished out a ‘sit up and take notice of’ kind of performance at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, where they lapped up two silver medals in individual and team evening categories.
A revival of India’s equestrians
The effort of our country’s equestrians was seen as a ‘revival’ simply because India had returned home ‘medal-less’ at the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games – last winning a lone bronze medal at the 2006 Asian Games. In fact, this was the first time that India had won two silver medals in a single Asian Games since bagging a silver medal at the 1982 Asiad where they put up their best-ever Asiad showing, winning five medals – three gold, a silver and a bronze medals.
An uncertain future
Clearly, Indian equestrian is ‘promising much for the future’ after the 2018 Asian Games success, but a cloud of uncertainty is hanging over as the Sports Ministry has asked the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) to comply with the National Sports Development Code of India 2011 without any further delay.
There are apprehensions that the EFI could run the risk of being derecognised by the Sports Ministry if it does comply with the sports code. It must be pointed out that the Sports Ministry has in the past advised the EFI to adhere to the sports code and even granted them provisional recognition in the hope that the EFI complies with the sports code.
The EFI, instead of acting on the advice of the Sports Ministry, is seeking an ‘exemption’ from the National Sports Development Code of India 2011 – in this regard. The EFI President Lt. Gen. Gopal R met up with the Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju last month stating that the peculiar nature of the sport must be taken cognisance of by the Ministry, and must be given a ‘sports code’ exemption and also added that state associations are not true representatives.
Various state associations who have been increasingly rendered ‘insignificant’, have also sounded out the Sports Minister requesting him to spurn the EFI’s request to be exempted from the sports code.
Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod, President, Rajasthan Equestrian Association, said the EFI’s consistent assertion that equestrian is a club-based sport does not hold water. “The entire setup in EFI is undemocratic, and state units have been completely marginalised. They keep saying the sport is a peculiar club-based sport – every sport is a club-based and equestrian isn’t any different and seeking a ‘sports code exemption’ on that ground is highly unjust. The grassroots always start from clubs to districts, to states and then to the federation,” he said.
Even more shocking is the fact that individual members and clubs also enjoy voting rights. “The National Sports Development Code of India 2011 clearly stipulates that no national sports federation can grant voting rights to individual members and clubs. So the EFI is clearly contravening the sports code guidelines,” Dundlod opined.
What is concerning to hear is that the EFI has been facilitating direct affiliation of individual members and clubs without taking the state units into confidence. “We have no issues with EFI giving membership to individuals and clubs, but individuals or clubs must deal with the state association if they want membership and not directly secure affiliation from the EFI as it is happening now. What is the point of having state units if individuals or clubs of ignoring state associations and directly approach the EFI for affiliation,” Dundlod asked with a tinge of frustration.
Umapathy Jayakrishnan, President, Tamil Nadu Equestrian Sports Association, said it is easy to understand why the EFI wants to keep state units irrelevant. “I sought EFI’s affiliation for my Tamil Nadu unit in 2017 and I must have visited Delhi (from Chennai) at least seven-eight times to request for the same, but they gave me wrong information stating that we must secure a NOC from the Tamil Nadu Olympic Association. The state Olympic association later told me no that NOC is needed for securing EFI affiliation. The EFI objective is clear – keep state units at bay so that the affairs of the federation are not run in a democratic manner. Even clubs and individual members do not connect with state associations and opt for direct membership from EFI, which only kills the presence of state units.”
State Equestrian Association of Maharashtra secretary Gunesh Pundare said the biggest losers in the ongoing uncertainty are the equestrian athletes. “Athletes suffer a lot when any NSF faces the prospect of being derecognised. One hopes better sense prevails and the EFI does the needful to comply with the sports code and retains the Sports Ministry’s recognition.”
It is not just the Sports Ministry that has put the Equestrian Federation of India on notice. Even the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has had in the past voiced its displeasure over the functioning of the EFI downgrading it to ‘associate member status’ for granting voting rights to individual members (in violation of the IOC charter that allows any members representing federations or state bodies and not individual members to take part in the voting process).
How can one forget the controversy generated by the Equestrian Federation of India over the selection of the Indian equestrian team for the 2018 Asian Games – the EFI had announced a seven-member team for the Asiad in June 2018 and a day later released a circular declaring the Asiad selection null and void. Of course, it is a different matter altogether that a seven-member Indian equestrian team was later cleared for the Asiad.
Indian equestrian needs to build on the ‘highs’ of bagging two silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and match the world’s best equestrian athletes from nations like Germany, France, Great Britain, USA, the Netherlands among others. Any administrative logjam is the last thing Indian equestrian needs!