How much does a National Sports Federation (NSF) really suffer in India when it stands de-recognised by the Sports Ministry? Well, how many ‘backward’ steps a sport takes in such a scenario doesn’t need to be over-emphasised. The damaging effects on a sport are even ‘more severe’ when a National Sports Federation remains de-recognised for seven years.
The sport of gymnastics has been in the doldrums in the country with the Gymnastics Federation of India (GFI) in ‘de-recognition’ mode since August 2012 – the issue of governance reared its ugly head time and again with two factions fighting to run the show and the ‘de-recognition’ effectively meant the GFI wouldn’t get any government aid for training camps, coaches and international competitions.
Startlingly, the GFI’s ‘de-recognition’ came about at a juncture when the sport was about to make new strides after being in obscurity for decades. One remembers how Allahabad lad Ashish Kumar, breathed ‘oxygen’ into the sport at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, garnering a bronze medal in the floor exercise event as well as a silver in the vault event – the country’s first-ever gymnastics medal in Commonwealth Games.
In fact, a close look at the happenings at GFI before the Sports Ministry’s de-recognition’ move in 2012 will convince many that it was a prudent move. The GFI turned into a drama-filled entity – nothing short of a ‘saas bahu’-style soap opera. Jaspal Singh Khandari was re-elected as GFI president in elections held in July 2011, but the Sports Ministry refused to take cognisance of that, with the former even moving the High Court but failing to get any relief.
Senior IPS officer PV Rathee, who cried of foul play during the 2011 polls, was subsequently elected as GFI president unopposed in 2013 when the elections were held for the second time. It was perhaps the darkest phase of Indian gymnastics (the period between October 2011 and August 2013) when the sport had literally come to a standstill – for close to two years no tournaments were happening, which meant that our gymnasts struggled to stay competitive preparation-wise.
Nothing exemplified the sorry state of affairs more than the exit of India’s foreign coach Vladimir Chertkov in 2011, who had termed the GFI as a ‘useless organisation’. With the national federation in total disarray, Indian gymnasts managed to stay alive in newsprint as Dipa Karmarkar bagged a bronze medal in the vault event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The GFI continued to be de-recognised by the Sports Ministry even as the federation conducted elections in 2015 that saw Sudhakar Shetty and S Shantikumar Singh got elected as GFI President and GFI Secretary respectively. GFI or not GFI, Indian gymnastics did not fail to hog the limelight as Dipa Karmarkar became the first Indian gymnast to qualify for the Olympics at Rio in 2016 – she missed out on a bronze, finishing a fourth in the vault event – a feat that was celebrated across the country almost like as it was a podium-finish effort.
On the GFI front, the new GFI President and Secretary duo of Sudhakar Shetty and S Shantikumar Singh did not quite operate like a house on fire, with the latter having his fair share of differences with the functioning of the former. Soon the GFI had two factions – Sudhakar Shetty faction and S Shantikumar Singh faction. In fact, the Sudhakar Shetty faction propped up Ranjeet Vasava as GFI secretary and managed to get the recognition of the world body FIG, although they were not recognised by the IOA. However, the S Shantikumar Singh faction was recognised by the IOA. All these years, bickerings between the Sudhakar Shetty faction and the IOA only enhanced the never-ending uncertainty over the future of the sport in the country.
The seven years of ‘de-recognition’ have indeed plunged Indian gymnastics into despair – perhaps better sense dawned on the warring factions thanks to a significant amount of persuasion carried out by the IOA. The upcoming GFI elections in New Delhi on November 5 will hopefully trigger new dawn for Indian gymnastics.
Even former national-level gymnast and GFI secretary S Shantikumar Singh, who is contesting for the post of GFI Secretary this time around, agrees that it is time to move forward. “Indian gymnastics has suffered a lot in these seven years with the Sports Ministry de-recognising the GFI. The immediate objective is to ensure smooth conduct of the elections on November 5 and subsequently put in a request to the Sports Ministry to restore recognition of GFI,” Shantikumar says.
The senior GFI official, who had earlier served as GFI treasurer during the 2011-2015 period and then got elected as GFI secretary in the 2015 election, believes a government-supported NSF is a must-have for the betterment of Indian gymnastics. “There will be no more infighting among officials – all officials are keen to see Indian gymnastics prosper. There is no point looking back,” he quips.
Shantikumar, who hails from Manipur, brushes aside talk of violating the National Sports Code 2011 by contesting in GFI elections for the third time. “The 2011 and 2015 elections were conducted when the GFI was de-recognised by the Sports Ministry. So I don’t think I have infringed the violations of the National Sports Code 2011,” he concludes.
One hopes that upcoming GFI elections will mark a new ‘beginning’ for Indian gymnastics and spur on the current crop of talented gymnasts like Dipa Karmarkar, Ashish Kumar, Aruna Budda Reddy, Pranati Nayak and Pranati Das to do the ‘unthinkable’ – make an Olympic podium finish or attain a World Championship medal.