POSTED: June 2nd 2010

NEIL WILSON: India is on a certain loser in challenging might of the IOC

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An authoritative, exclusive series only from Sports Features Communications

LONDON, Jun 02: How will the stand-off between the world’s most populous democracy and the world’s most powerful oligarchy play out?

On the one side is India, home to more than a billion people and a developing economic super-power; on the other is the International Olympic Committee, an elite club of royals, aristos and former jocks. No contest, you would think, but the IOC does not make a habit of losing in these face-offs with politicians.

The argument rests on the refusal of the IOC to allow the Indian government to run sport as it wishes in its own country. Or to put it as the IOC does, interfere in the affairs of its national Olympic committee.

The Indian government wants to set  limitations on the tenure and age of its sports officials. To be more precise, it wishes to use legislative clout to rid it of two over-powerful sporting officials, one of whom, Randhir Singh, happens to be a member of the IOC. It believes that as its country’s lawfully elected government, it has right – and the law - on its side.

It may not be enough.

The IOC has never been elected except by itself but it has something which may be of greater enduring concernin India – the dream of its citizens to take part in the Olympic Games.

Take your finger out of our pie, says the IOC, or no Indian will take part in the 2012 Olympics in London. It is not an idle threat.

New elections

The Kuwaiti government tried to interfere in the affairs of its NOC last year and now finds its country and its people suspended. Iraq came within days in 2008 of being excluded from the Beijing Games until its government climbed down in the face of IOC threats and agreed to allow fresh NOC elections.

The IOC can play hard-ball when it wants. It did in 1976 when African countries threatened a boycott of the Montreal Games. The IOC stood its ground, the Games went ahead and now nobody except those athletes from Africa who missed out remembers the boycott.

It did again in 1980 when it ignored American demands for the Moscow Games to be moved after the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets. A generation of Americans and German athletes still find it hard to forgive their governments for depriving them of their dreams.

FIFA exercises similar power because of the popularity of football. It forced Iraq to bend to its will last year, again over an issue of interference in the internal affairs of a national association, suspending the Asian champions from all football until its authorities capitulated.

Sport must always stand up to political interference, as the British Olympic Association did to Margaret Thatcher in 1980, however insignificant the issue. Give politicians a centimetre and they will take the full 100 metres. The IOC is right in its stand, and it will win.

Denying the Olympics to its citizens is more than any government dares.

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · India · IOC

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