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Of Kabaddi, Nepotism and Term Limits

Limiting the term limit of sports leaders has been tossed around by the Sports Ministry for many years.

In 2012, former Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek had called for a comprehensive study on the proposal to limit the term for sports association leaders as an approach to ensure the sustainable development of sports in Malaysia.

The idea was also championed by the then National Sports Council director-general Datuk Seri Zolkples Embong, who was of the opinion that it would ensure ensure that the development of sports in the country would be better with fresh leadership.

Khairy Jamaluddin, who took over from Shabery Cheek as the Sports Minister in 2013, the Sports Development Act was under review and one of the proposals mooted was limiting the terms of sports association leaders.

A handful of countries have already enacted such a rule including Brazil and India.

The National Sports Development Code of India 2011, ensured that an office bearer (President, Secretary and Treasurer) of a National Federation/Association may hold office as such for a maximum of 12 years for the president, eight years for the Secretary and Treasurer and capped the age limit at 70 years.

This was meant for ensure the smooth, professional and transparency in the running of sports associations.

However, many found loopholes to circumvent the ruling. Nothing illustrates the negative side of this better than the case of one family’s stranglehold over the administration of kabaddi in India.

The Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India was run by 73-year-old Janarthan Singh Gehlot (left) , a former Rajasthan Member of Legislative Assembly.

He held the post for 21-years before voluntarily stepping down with the passing of the Act. At first glance it seems to be an honourable act.

But, there was more to the story. First he arranged for a hastily called Annual General Meeting to amend the constitution to create the position of Life President.

He then installed his wife as the president and anointed himself as the Life President. He also ensured that his son was appointed as the president of the Rajasthan state association.

Gehlot also holds the president’s post in both the International Kabaddi Federation (IKF) and the Asian Kabaddi Federation (AKF). Both organisations are one of the several governing bodies for the sport at the international level.

The issue was not only about nepotism but also of other allegations of transgressions made by Gehlot and his family members in administrating the sport.

Numerous legal actions were taken against Gehlot but nothing came out of it, primarily due to the political backing he enjoyed.

While there has been constant allegation of favouritism and corruption in selection of players for international tournament, India was still the undisputed World and Asian champions. This was also helped by the lack of development of the sport in other countries.

With the formation of rival bodies for the sport, born out of the frustration with the current situation, the matter has come up to the courts again.

This time former national player Mahipal Singh (right) has filed yet another case with the Delhi High Court.

In his affidavit of reply to the courts, Gehlot has surprisingly agreed to step down as the Life President of the AKFI.

It cannot be considered as a victory as he would still be controlling the organisation through his family members and cronies.

Malaysia has it fair share of sports leaders holding high ranking positions in national sports federations for far too long for the comfort of many.

Fans were clamouring for Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang to resign as he was been helming the organisation since 1984. He finally stepped down in favour of his deputy and son Tengku Abdullah Ibni Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah in 2014.

Dato Sieh Kok Chi, the honorary secretary, was another long serving official. He was elected ad the secretary of the Olympic Council of Malaysia in 1992. He took a step down to hold the position of Assistant Secretary for one term before stepping away completely earlier this year.

The well respected Kok Chi, is one of the many instances, when the two term limit may not be justified. Like him there are others who had served with distinction for a very long time.

The term limit by itself may not be the best or the only solution to ensure sports associations were professionally run.

There are many instances where even a single term high ranking official has done more damage to the sport.

It is a fluid situation that is different from association to association. More discussion and thought is needed.

However, that being said, the Sports Development Act of Malaysia still needs a review to look into the structure of national sports associations.

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