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Equestrian Federation: bravery or bravado?

The Equestrian Federation of India has challenged the sports ministry and the Indian Olympic Association

By G. Rajaraman

  • Published 19.07.19, 4:30 PM
  • Updated 19.07.19, 4:49 PM
A horse at a fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan. Among the latest entrants in the EFI membership register is a body that organises a horse fair in Sarangkheda in the rural Nandurbar district of northern Maharashtra
A horse at a fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan. Among the latest entrants in the EFI membership register is a body that organises a horse fair in Sarangkheda in the rural Nandurbar district of northern Maharashtra (Shutterstock)

The Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) is on a collision course with both the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Indian Olympic Association. Its actions have left riders in India and overseas wondering both about the future of their governing body and also about the adamant stand taken by some officials who appear to be making their sport very different from other disciplines in India.

The EFI had been asked to ensure compliance with the National Sports Development Code of India 2011. Instead on Saturday the EFI decided to remain on the path of conflict with the two premier institutions. There was no reference at the executive committee meeting to take steps, if any, being taken to ensure code compliance and regain full membership of IOA.

Worse, by considering the membership applications of 26 individuals and six clubs at its executive committee meeting in Delhi on Saturday, the EFI leadership has conveyed its determination to ignore the directives of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and the Indian Olympic Association to set its house in order.

Among the latest entrants in the EFI membership register is a body that organises a rural fair of horses in Sarangkheda in rural Nandurbar district in northern Maharashtra. The saving grace is that this body engages in equestrian activities, even if they are not exactly the Olympic Games or Asian Games sort.

After all, EFI has been known to admit army transport companies and dog units as voting members. Its membership roster makes for interesting reading. In the 48 years of its existence, it has not engaged the State Associations proactively. At a time when civilians have started investing more time and money in the sport, some officials have sought to keep EFI anchored in the past.

In his farewell address to EFI in January this year, Lt. Gen. Ashok Ambre, the then president, said that the sport was kept alive in the country because of the contribution of the army. “I see (the) writing on the wall. May be in two, three or five years, transition has to take place and maybe the sport will be controlled by civilian counterparts,” he said.

The state associations are at pains to point out that this is not a civilian-vs-Army issue at all. They say some officers, intent on hanging on to their positions in EFI, are doing their own institution a big disservice. These officials, after all, have been elected to various posts as individuals and not as army representatives.

It should not be a surprise if Chief of Army Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat takes suo moto notice of some army officers, seeking to retain control of a civil sports body and drawing flak for this in the past year. Even if they are acting in their individual capacities, they run the risk of causing damage to the army’s image as an institution that embraces discipline and follows governance codes.

Back in January 2013, the ministry notified 24 National Sports Federations, including the Equestrian Federation of India, that they had to submit a copy of their respective amended constitutions, incorporating the Government guidelines. The Ministry followed that up a month later, setting the 24 Federations a February 28, 2013 deadline for compliance.

In January and June 2017, the Ministry wrote to the EFI, advising it to carry out amendments to its constitution to become fully compliant with the National Sports Development Code of India 2011. EFI managed to convince the Ministry that it was taking steps in that direction and secured provisional recognition for six months each till the end of 2017.

With its patience running out, the Ministry put EFI on notice in February, giving it till August 3 to achieve code compliance. EFI President Lt. Gen. Gopal R met the Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju in the last week of June to seek exemption from the code since equestrianism is a peculiar club-based sport and state associations were not true representatives.

A number of state associations which are feeling marginalised and remaining voiceless thus far, have since written to the minister, requesting him not to pay heed to the EFI demand to be treated as a differently. They have pointed out that the EFI electoral college has a total of 1,282 individual members and 329 clubs who should be members of state associations instead.

EFI has faced fire on another front. The Indian Olympic Association downgraded it to associate member status for allowing individual members to take part in the voting process. Instead of taking that as a warning sign, EFI has gone ahead and decided to induct more individual members in what can be construed as cocking a snook at the IOA leadership.

The options before the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports are now limited. Having just decided to not grant the Indian Golf Union (IGU) an extension of its recognition for not complying with the code, it can be expected that the officials in the Ministry will follow the same protocol in dealing with the EFI. It had set August 3 as the deadline for EFI to comply with its directives. The IOA will be watching the developments in Shastri Bhavan with some interest and be prepared to speak with the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) before stepping in to form an Equestrian Governance Committee in line with the Golf Governance Committee that its president Dr. Narinder Dhruv Batra recently announced to oversee elections to IGU.

It is also likely that the IOA will not send an observer to the September 28 meeting of the EFI IF IT goes ahead with elections under the current statute. For the moment though, EFI has laid the gauntlet down, challenging the ministry and the IOA. In a few weeks from now, we will know if it is a brave decision or just sheer bravado.