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Favours, requests, demands: 28 sexual harassment cases in last 5 years in government sports institutes
In light of the recent sexual offence complaint filed by a cyclist, The Bridge filed an RTI with SAI and takes a look at the data of such cases - something that continues to hamper the image of Indian sports.
Unresolved cases, murky evidence and minimal accountability. These three aspects keep haunting the Indian sports administration. The Bridge filed an RTI with the Sports Authority of India regarding the number of sexual harassment cases filed in government-run sports institutes over the last five years. The response received earlier this month revealed that between May 2017 and May 2022, such centres in India received a total of 28 sexual harassment complaints.
Another question The Bridge asked was: How many complaints were filed against coaches and administrators of these institutes in the last 10 years? The answer to this was 34 cases against coaches and 11 cases against administrative staff between May 2012 and May 2022.
These numbers are no joke for a country that has enacted various sexual offence prevention laws and boasts immensely about how female athletes are being given equal opportunities, thus leading to the rise of some women world champions across sports.
Unfortunately but predictably, not much has been done to get to the root of the problem, even though more and more women have started speaking up in recent years. Sports federations and institutes in the country continue to be run by professionals whose qualifications often have absolutely no relevance to the respective sport. This leads to minimal understanding of player demands, training requirements and interpersonal communication.
Perhaps as a malaise of this lack of accountability, demands for sexual favours in India's sports centres have seen an upward trajectory in the past 10 years, as seen from RTIs and government reports on the number of cases reported.
As per data sourced by the Indian Express in 2020, 29 complaints of sexual harassment were made against coaches between 2010-2020 — an all-time high for Indian sports bodies. Another report mentions that only 4 National Sports Federations out of 11 surveyed were found to have Internal Complaints Committees to deal with sexual offence investigations.
A decade of shame
- One of the most famous cases that broke out in Indian sports was when an Indian national hockey player levelled allegations of sexual harassment against the chief coach of the women's team in 2010.
A letter addressed to the Sports Ministry stated that MK Kaushik was up to "illicit activities", "asking sexual favours from junior girls" and passed "lewd comments". The letter stated: "The girls, all coming from poor and humble backgrounds are too scared to speak against the coach." The coach was forced to resign but returned to the position in 2013. "I want to put all these allegations behind me," he said then. The player in question never played again.
- Andhra Pradesh Cricket Association secretary V Chamundeswarnath was accused of asking for sexual favours to grant team selection. Several members of the Andhra women's cricket team met the state home minister to level the charge. The accused was forced to resign but then moved to the Telangana Badminton Association as vice-president.
- A heart-rending incident took place in 2009 when a promising female boxer committed suicide due to alleged harassment by her coach. The allegations were not pursued officially and the matter died as quickly without an effective solution.
- A 29-year-old female gymnast accused a coach and a male gymnast of indecency and intimidation before the 2014 Asian Games.
- E Thulasi was a bronze medallist at the 2009 Women's National Boxing Championship. Two years later, she filed a complaint of sexual harassment against the Tamil Nadu State Amateur Boxing Association Secretary for seeking sexual favours in order to select her for national-level events.
There are several common trends in all these incidents, but the biggest thread between them is probably the apathy of Indian administrators in charge of sports bodies to take action regarding internal sexual offence complaints.
Lack of accountability
More often than not, cases are brushed under the carpet with official reasons ranging from 'lack of evidence', a 'compromise', 'false allegations' and other such frivolities.
As per Section 4 of the POSH Act passed in 2013, every employer must ensure the presence of an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within the organisation to look into complaints that may arise within the organisation. Non-Constitution of an ICC can lead to penalties and this provision extends to both government and private organisations in India.
Unfortunately, several state sports organisations are yet to constitute an effective ICC. Even in 2022, there exists no remedial measure in place to investigate sexual assault, harassment and other accusations in these bodies.
Records show SAI has disposed of 41 cases in the last 10 years, but one does not need to delve too far back into the murky past of Indian sports disputes to see that several of these allegations have been dealt with incompetently.
The AIFF scandal that took place in April 2022 is a prime example of unprofessionalism from all parties involved. The dispute involved a team owner (Ranjit Bajaj) who accused the general secretary (Kushal Das) of the football body of molesting employees in the workplace and accused former AIFF President Praful Patel of burying incriminating details.
The AIFF claimed the charge was defamation. The ICC that was formed gave a clean chit to the accused and said the accusation was "frivolous and devoid of truth". This conclusion was arrived at after questioning previous presiding officers of the federation's internal complaints committee. The accuser lodged a complaint with the National Commission of Women and wrote to FIFA but a detailed investigation on the matter is yet to be initiated.
This back and forth between administrators and individuals with vested interests is just one of many examples which put Indian sports in a bad light. With multiple allegations floating about, identifying the problem becomes a major task in itself. In the midst of this chaos, it is very easy for ICCs of sports bodies to dismiss cases as being false and frivolous.
Ideally, the goals of government-run Indian sports bodies would be to support national and international athletes and bring glory to India. However, coaches and administrators seem to consider satisfying personal favours a bigger priority. These personal favours are not just sexual advances but include playing politics to ensure that other individuals are brought down or disreputed in society.
According to the complaint by a top cyclist that rocked Indian sports last week, the national team coach threatened her that he will destroy her career by having her removed from the National Centre of Excellence (NCOE) if she did not sleep with him.
There is a long way to go for Indian sports governance to sort out this mess. Money and power seem to be the bigger requirements when it comes to running a sports federation in India. In the midst of politicians and government officials wanting to control every yard of their administrative territory, sportspersons will continue to suffer at the hands of grossly incompetent, perverse and small-minded individuals.