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Gloomy future awaits Indian Golf Union after ‘derecognition’ and violation of Army guidelines

Shaghil Bilali

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Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu, who is also the Vice-Chief of Army Staff since May 31, 2018, is under scrutiny for working as acting president of the Indian Golf Union.

New Delhi: The Indian Golf Union (IGU) stands derecognised by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports headed by Kiren Rijiju. But the bigger question is will the IGU overcome the National Sports Development Code (NSDC) 2011 diktat in the current scenario it is in despite getting “preferential” treatment at the hands of the government to put its house in order.

Four extensions of interim recognition and almost a two-year time after it was suspended in 2017, the IGU let the momentum slip from its hands it should have seized seriously. Now, all it is doing to present before the Sports Ministry is a Calcutta High Court observation which suggests the ‘appropriate authorities’ not to de-recognise the IGU till an appeal is disposed by the court.

Maj. Gen. Bibhuti Bhushan (Retd.), IGU director general, confirmed Sports Lounge that it has requested the ministry to recognise the IGU again on the basis of the court observation. In our last story we had talked about the IGU’s request for a fifth extension of interim recognition and the several legal cases they are facing.

“The Calcutta High Court in its decision last month said that the pendency of the matter before us may be cited before the appropriate authority not to de-recognise the IGU till the appeal is disposed off by us. The next hearing is on July 30,” Bhushan told the online sports portal.

The problem with IGU’s argument is the court has made an observation. Nowhere it has said the ministry is bound by its decision, nor there is any direct instruction that the derecognition must be annulled with immediate effect.

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju (L) is determined to make all NSFs comply with the Sports Code 2011.

Rijiju, who took over from accomplished shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, as the Sports Minister recently made it clear in the Lok Sabha that all National Sports Federations (NSFs) need to comply with NSDC.

Responding to a question by Trinamool Congress MP Sunil Kumar Mondal, Rijiju said: “This ministry has notified the NSDC 2011 effective from 31/01/2011 to ensure transparency and accountability in the functioning of NSFs for the healthy development of sports. As per the NSDC, NSFs are required to follow democratic and healthy management practices which require them to ensure greater accountability and transparency at all levels; adopt impartial and transparent selection procedures; adhere to age and tenure restrictions of office bearers; adopt and follow the basic universal principles of good governance in sports; adopt proper accounting procedures at all levels and produce annual financial statements; prevent age fraud and sexual harassment of women; comply with the provisions of the Right to Information Act; and hold elections as per model election guidelines issued by the government.”

The matter is now in the hands of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) which may form an ad hoc committee with a ministry official as its member to run the sports in India.

However, the golf body needs to undertake a long winding route to sort out various issues it has only complicated over the years. The biggest point of contention has been the excessive intervention of the Armed Forces, especially the Indian Army, in the governance/administration of the national federation. The IGU’s previous governance structure had five zones—East, West, North, South and Army—with the presidential post presented annually on a rotational basis. This was questioned by the Sports Ministry, forcing them to draft a new governance code as per the NSDC.

The same was highlighted by the Justice Lodha Committee recommendations that all sports federations must be free from any ‘government interference’ also featured in the “Olympic Charter”, part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that gives recognition to various NSFs in India through the IOA.

The latest RTI reply, in possession of Sports Lounge, clearly mentions the conditions under which an army official can get involved in sports bodies or any institutions. Article 19/Chapter V of the Army Rules 1954 state that no officer/personnel can “assist or take any active part in, any society, institution or organisation, not recognised as part of the Armed Forces of the Union; unless it be of a recreational or religious nature in which case prior sanction of the superior officer shall be obtained”.

Please mark that the association must be of a “recreational” nature. Considering this, the appointment of Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu, who is also the Vice-Chief of Army Staff,  as the acting president of IGU is in direct violation of the Indian Army guidelines.

It has also been alleged that the acting president used his influential position in the Army to persuade previous Sports Minister Rathore to extend the interim recognition to IGU thrice since his appointment last April. Rathore, being an ex-Armyman, had to pay heed to a senior defence officer, it’s further alleged.

To explain the Army guidelines, membership in a club (for playing golf and using club facilities) is certainly recreational but heading a NSF is certainly not recreational and goes against the spirit of NSDC, which is about bringing professionalism/accountability in sports.

As an acting president, Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu not only convenes the Annual General Meeting (AGM), but he also approves the utilisation of Sports Ministry grants and various expenditures incurred by the IGU. He is also the final authority on the appointment of different IGU committees, selection of golfers for international competitions and appointment of team managers/coaches/training staff etc.

The defence forces are well-known for their discipline and understanding of rules. However, in this case someone enjoying the second most senior rank in the Indian Army chose to ignore its own rulebook.

Should army officers still be allowed to hold top positions is an issue the golf fraternity should seriously look into.

In another RTI reply, what has come to light is Army/defence state units or facilities thereof aren’t allowed to become members of any sports body without prior permission (or without a No Objection Certificate) of the Army Sports Control Board (ASCB) or the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB), the final authority affiliated to the IOA in this case.

In the same RTI, filed by Shyam Sunder, vice-president of the Ooty Gymkhana Club, army’s chief information officer, Rakesh Rawat, clarifies whether defence personnel can join sports federations and whether defence units are eligible to become part of sports bodies. In his reply dated June 26, Rawat said, “After obtaining NOC from SSCB.”

“The RTI is making the NOC condition a must, but none of the army units, associated with state golf associations, has taken a NOC from the SSCB. Now, how can they become part of sports bodies when they violating an important defence rule?,” Sunder asked.

In most Olympic sports, like boxing and athletics, defence teams participate under the banner of SSCB, but golf and equestrian are exceptions where SSCB is nowhere in picture. The issue of army officers’ interference doesn’t end here. The training areas where golf is played as a recreational activity are affiliated as clubs under by the IGU. They can attend the AGM and have the voting rights.

In a RTI reply on March 27, Amit Sharma, information officer of the Indian Army, categorically said army clubs are ‘common training areas used for weapon training and obstacle training’. An ex-IGU official said the presence of army personnel has long been an objectionable issue and it can be contested in a court.

“The IGU has to resolve the issue of army clubs if it wants to put its house in order. The army clubs are not for common use. They are for army officers where they also allow some junior officers to play. While the Sports Code 2011 says that the voting rights should be given to the bodies working at grassroot level,” an ex-IGU official said on the condition of anonymity.

He added, “Tomorrow, if someone goes in the court against the presence of army officers in associations or status of army training areas as clubs, IGU will again be caught on the wrong foot.”

Where does the IGU stand after derecognition?

As reported by Sports Longue last month, the ministry in its letter dated March 8 had extended the IGU’s interim recognition to June 30. The IGU failed to conduct elections and put the house in order within the deadline. The derecognition came into effect from July 1. The ministry and the IOA has removed the IGU’s name from its list of recognised sports federations. In Parliament last Thursday, Sports Ministry informed the lower house that a total 56 recognised NSFs are affiliated to it and IGU’s name was not mentioned in the list.

A Sports Ministry source said, “Since we had already informed them about derecognition in our March letter, we needed not to issue a fresh directive. They had been given enough time to hold the elections and implement the sports code. They failed to come up with a solution.”

The IOA may now form an ad hoc committee as it did when the boxing federation was derecognised by Sports Ministry. The ministry may also appoint a government observer to oversee the election process.

However, the silver lining among the dark clouds hovering over IGU is that the golfers won’t get affected by derecognition. Their training and participation in domestic and international tournaments including the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will continue. The ministry has already passed the IGU’s annual calendar, so there will be no stoppage of golf activities.

In order to form an ad hoc committee or conduct elections, the ministry or the IOA has to move to the golf fraternity, but if it is indulging in infighting, issues getting resolved is highly unlikely.

Bhushan told Sports Longue, “We are serious about enforcing the Sports Code and holding elections, but parties with vested interest don’t want us to do it. They have filed court cases and don’t seem interested to get them resolved. There is also a talk of settlement out of court, but nothing has materialised yet.”

Hearings of as many as five cases against the IGU is pending in July. The IGU has spent hefty amount on fees of lawyers. The IGU has hired three law firms to fight their cases, and spent Rs. 77.21 lakh in legal fees till May 2019.

Legal battles, in practicality, aren’t going to help golf fraternity in the long run. If they keep fighting legal battles, the ad hoc committee will also find it difficult to hold fresh elections. The fraternity has to get issues resolved and come under the same page.

Golfers may not get affected by political wrangling, but the image of the sport will be tarnished, meaning the success stories of golfers from marginalised classes would fail to untie the ‘elite’ noose haunting the sport since the British Raj.

Golf Lounge

With dream pairing in his favour, Shubhankar hopes to ‘Open’ campaign

Joy Chakravarty

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India's Shubhankar Sharma during a practice round for The 148th Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Antrim, Northern Ireland: The week of the Open Championship holds a special significance for Shubhankar Sharma. Not only did he make his first cut in a Major in this tournament, but it also coincides with his birthday almost every year.

This year, Sharma will turn 23 on Sunday, the day when the 148th Open Championship is decided at the hallowed Royal Portrush Golf Club. And he expects the celebrations to be even better than last year, when it fell on the Moving Day of the tournament at Carnoustie.

It’s not been the best of seasons for Sharma so far, and completely pales when compared to 2017-18. He won twice on the European Tour, played all four Majors and became the Asia No. 1. In comparison, a tie for 27th place at the Hero Indian Open has been his best result in 2019 so far.

However, Sharma can sense a change in his fortunes. He may have missed the cut at the Irish Open in the run-up to the Open Championship, but he was happy with his ball-striking there. At the Scottish Open, he needed an 18th hole birdie from 45 feet to make the cut on the number before finishing tied 34th.

“I made a few changes in my swing and I can now feel that it is getting in the groove. I was happy with the way I played in Scotland and I have worked hard over my game in the past few weeks. My coach (Jesse Grewal) is here and I am feeling quite confident going into the fifth Major of my career,” said Sharma on the eve of the tournament.

Sharma has been handed a dream pairing—he goes out on the first two days with the reigning World No. 1 Brooks Koepka and the 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.

“I was very surprised when I saw the grouping, but I am really looking forward to it. Brooks is obviously the World No. 1 and Louis is a former champion. I have played with Brooks before in India (at the 2013 Challenge Tour event in Kensville, Ahmedabad, where they were paired during the final round),” added the World No. 196.

“Obviously, there is going to be a lot of people following and a lot of people watching back home in India. I think it will very exciting and it is always nice to get a draw like that.”

Sharma, then just 16 and making his professional debut, beat Koepka by three shots that day, but the American has made giant strides since then.

Talking about his upcoming 23rd birthday, Sharma said: “Last year was obviously very special as I made my first cut in a Major. Hopefully, we can make it even more special this year on a Sunday.”

Sharma will tee off at 13:04 local time (17:34 IST) on Thursday. On Friday, he will start at 08:03 local time (13:33 IST).

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Amandeep grabs first win of season in Bengaluru

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Bengaluru: Amandeep Drall finally grabbed her first title of the season, and it came after a long wait as she emerged a comfortable four-shot winner in the 10th leg of the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour at the Bangalore Golf Club on Friday. Her last win was in the 11th leg of the 2018 season, which was 16 starts back.

On a day when none of the players broke par at the par-70 layout, Amandeep had two birdies on the second and 16th and three bogeys, while Gaurika Bishnoi, who also shot 71, leapfrogged from tied-sixth to second as the rest faltered.

Gursimar Badwal, the first round co-leader with Amandeep, was expected to provide the strongest challenge but fizzled away with three bogeys on the back nine after a double bogey, bogey and two birdies on the front nine. She finished with a round of four-over 74 and ended third.

Amandeep, whose previous best this season was second at both the second and third legs, has also been at least tied-third on four other occasions. The win this week, therefore, comes as a big relief to the consistent Kapurthala golfer, who is the sixth different winner in 10 events this season.

Amandeep Drall receives the giant cheque from BGC secretary Sunil K. Vasant.

Gaurika Bishnoi showed that she is fast achieving a high level of consistency. Having won twice this season, she finished runner-up for the third time. She has also been third twice.

Afshan Fatima had a roller-coaster of a round with  a double and three bogeys in the first four holes to be five-over after four. She then birdied three times in the next four holes to turn in two-over. On the back nine, she birdied twice on 12th and 17th, but double bogeyed the 18th for a 2-over 72 and a tied-fourth place finish with Sonam Chugh (73) and Ananya Datar (74).

Neha Tripathi (73), Ridhima Dilawari (75) and Gurjot Badwal (75), in her first outing as a professional, were tied-seventh. Gauri Karhade, who was one of the three players to shoot the day’s best score of 71, was tenth.

Gaurika Bishnoi continued to lead the Hero Order of Merit with Rs. 8,61,800, while Neha Tripathi is second with earnings of Rs. 7,69,133 and Amandeep Drall rose to third with Rs. 7,64,333. Gursimar Badwal and Ridhima Dilawari are fifth and sixth.

The next event is the 11th leg of the Hero WPG Tour, which will be played at the Hyderabad Golf Club from August 7.

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SPORTS LOUNGE IMPACT: IOA forms committee to run affairs of ‘unruly’ Indian Golf Union

Shaghil Bilali

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The de-recognition of the IGU will also affect the staging of the European Tour tri-sanctioned Hero Indian Open next year.

New Delhi: After Sports Longue highlighted the Indian Golf Union’s failure to implement the National Sports Development Code 2011 (NSDC) and put its house in order, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) swung into action as it disaffiliated the golf body and formed a five-member governance committee to run the sports and oversee ‘aspects regarding golfers’ participation in the Olympic qualifiers’.

If this was not enough, the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports (MYAS) led by Kiren Rijiju on Thursday also sent a letter to the IGU, informing that it no more enjoyed the government’s recognition.

IOA’s letter, a copy of which is in possession of Sports Lounge, of forming a governance committee came after almost two years it had sent a letter to the IGU about its non-compliance with Sports Code 2011. The IOA had intimated the golf body that it’s recognition was not guaranteed beyond February 2018. However, the IGU managed to evade sanctions through various means but it ultimately faced the wrath of IOA.

The IOA president Dr Narinder Dhruv Batra on Tuesday shot a letter to IGU acting president Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu and honorary secretary Lt. Gen. A.K.S. Chandele, informing him that the IOA is taking the matter of governance of golf in its hands.
“Given the lapses in procedures and timelines, there is void in the leadership and management of golf in India. IGU has failed to resolve the impasse on reform in the last six months. Under the current circumstances, a resolution is not feasible without external supervision on reform of governance,” the letter read.

Batra wrote that after the IGU failed to hold AGM and conduct election, he and Rajiv Mehta, general secretary, IOA, met Antony Scanlon, Executive Director of International Golf Federation (IGF), in May in Australia, where the decision to form a governance committee was taken.

“Dr. Narinder Dhruv Batra, President and Mr. Rajeev Mehta, Secretary General of Indian Olympic Association met Mr. Antony Scanlon, Executive Director of International Golf Federation, on 6 May 2019, at GCCEC, Gold Coast, Australia, to discuss on working together to resolve the situation. It was then agreed that a Golf Governance Committee would be formed to reform governance, liaise with all stakeholders, ensure compliance of norms and helping IGU conduct election,” the letter said.

The IOA letter said the IGU held its last election on October 28, 2016. Term of whose top officials and the council members ended by the end of October 2018.

The letter also ensured that the Indian golfers’ preparations for the Olympics won’t be jeopardised.
“Considering the significance of participation in Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the Committee shall also oversee all aspects with regard to participation of athletes and officials in the Olympic Qualifier competitions/ events during the interim period.”

At present, professional golfers Gaganjeet Bhullar (Rank 48) and Shubhankar Sharma (49) are the highest-ranked Indians in the Olympic rankings, while on the women’s side it is the likes of Aditi Ashok (35) and Diksha Dagar (55). These four players would represent the country if they remain the highest-ranked golfers in the IGF standings before next year’s cut-off date for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The five-member governance committee has Women’s Golf Association of India (WGAI) president Kavita Singh as chairperson, Mukesh

Kumar, Onkar Singh, Vir Srivastava and a nominee of IGF as its members.

The letter further said since the IGU’s AGM last year was challenged in the court and it failed to come up with a solution subsequently, the IOA lost hope on the golf body.

“The IGU had issued letter to conduct election on 15 December, 2018, which was legally challenged and the election was stayed by order of the Alipore District Court, dated 14 December, 2018, in case Misc-79/2018 (West Bengal Golf Society Vs The Indian Golf Union & Ors).

“Given the lapses in procedures and timelines, there is void in the leadership and management of golf in India. IGU has failed to resolve the impasse on reform in the last six months. Under the current circumstances, a resolution is not feasible without external supervision on reform of governance.”

Sports Longue in its reports had highlighted the IGU’s adamant behaviour towards its members and golf clubs, and failure to follow the Sports Code guidelines.
The federation got four unprecedented interim recognition extensions from Sports Ministry before it ultimately got de-recognised last month. Issues like pending court cases, army clubs having voting rights in the AGM and the active army personnel holding top posts in the state and the national federations went against the IGU. The current president of the IGU is also the Vice-Chief of Army staff.

Ministry too writes to IGU

The sports ministry’s derecognition of IGU came into effect from June 30, four days after the federation had requested it to continue recognition citing a Calcutta High Court observation. However, nowhere the Court had said that the ministry was bound by its decision, nor there was any instruction that the de-recognition must be annulled. But if IGU had any hope of a fifth extension, the ministry dashed it on Tuesday.

In his letter, A.K. Singh, under secretary in the Sports Ministry, wrote to IGU director general Maj. Gen. Bibhuti Bhushan (Retd.), “I am directed to refer to your letter dated 26.6.2019 requesting further extension of recognition to Indian Golf Union (IGU). In this regard, it may be recalled that IGU’s interim recognition was extended by the Ministry for the fourth time till 30.06.2019, subject to the conditions as detailed in letter dated 08.03.2019. IGU was also informed vide letter dated 27.06.2019 that the implementation of the court order dated 20th Feb 2019 is an internal matter of IGU and the Government does not interfere in such issues to maintain the autonomy of a National Sports Federation (NSF). It was also conveyed therein that there does not seem to be any hindrance in implementing the above mentioned court order.”

He further wrote, “It has, therefore, been decided that the request for extension of recognition of IGU can only be considered after it complies with the directions as laid down in this Ministry’s letter dated 08.03.2019.”

What golf fraternity can do now

The de-recognition by the ministry and disaffiliation by the IOA is a huge blow to the IGU, which for last two years failed to convince its members to come under the same page. Even though the IOA has formed a committee which will oversee the election process, it will be almost same members from the current IGU set-up, who are likely to be part of future federation. So, for now, the IGU officials should look back, acknowledge their faults, sort out pending court cases and resolve all the issues with its members. The flared egos in the federation have taken them to hit rock bottom. It’s time to keep the disagreements away, work for the unity and take golf to the grassroots.

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