June 14, 2015

The Great Deflate: Sports Ministry puts all official basketball events in India on hold after BFI fiasco

Sometimes, basketball in India can feel like a literal bouncing ball. Just when you think that you've gotten a good bounce up, the force of gravity - or the suppressing push of a dribble - can throw it back down to earth again.

That basketball has been rising and falling - well, mostly falling - at alarming pace for the last few months, and now, it has sunk to a new depth. After continued infighting between different factions of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) over the control of the federation's executive committee, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs in India (hereon referred to as the 'Sports Ministry') has put on hold the conduct of any official basketball event in India until the office bearers of the BFI are recognized by the government. The BFI is the governing and controlling body of basketball in India, and is responsible for the development and promotion of the sport at all levels. This ban means that, until the government can come to a decision on the 'legal' ruling party of the BFI, there will be no camps, clinics, training sessions, national tournaments, or international participation of basketball for India.

In a letter by the Sports Ministry addressed to the elected presidents of both the bodies (dated June 12), AK Patro, under-secretary to the Government of India, has written, "The ministry is not in a position to give recognition to either faction at this stage. Both factions are advised not to hold any official event in India and not to use the logo of this ministry or Sports Authority of India (SAI) until office bearers of BFI are recognized by the government."

Do you hear that fizz? That's the sound of a deflated basketball which has now stopped bouncing back up.

The story so far? Over the last two months, a dramatic turn of events has plunged the BFI into an abyss of uncertainty. Political infighting led the association to be split in two: two factions called two separate meetings/elections (March 27 and March 28 respectively) in two different cities (Bengaluru and Pune respectively) and selected two separate executive committees (presided by K Govindraj and Poonam Mahajan respectively) to head the BFI. All of India’s three foreign coaches – Men’s National Team Head Coach Scott Flemming, Women’s National Team Head Coach Francisco Garcia, and Strength and Conditioning Head Coach Tommy Heffelfinger – ended their contracts with Indian basketball last month. Meanwhile, FIBA – the world’s governing body of basketball and organizers of all upcoming FIBA Asia basketball tournaments – declared the situation in India a ‘freeze’, and thus, disallowing India to play in FIBA-sanctioned international basketball tournaments. With the FIBA Asia Championships - India's biggest opportunity for top-level basketball - on the horizon, the nation was headed headless and coach-less into the eye of the storm.

There seemed to be some respite from the mess in recent weeks, a hopeful bounce back up. 'Team Govindraj' won a Delhi High Court order to take charge of the BFI's office in New Delhi and their official website. Then, FIBA finally passed their stamp of recognition to Team Govindraj, too, recognizing them as the official office-bearers of the Federation. Things seemed to be finally getting back on track when FIBA gave India the responsibility of hosting the 4th South Asian Basketball Championship (from July 3-5 in Bengaluru) and the BFI planned a month-long camp in Bengaluru in preparation.

Alas, with the latest development, the ray of hope has quickly been blanketed by a dark cloud of politics again. Already, the warring of the two factions led Team Mahajan to post-pone India's Youth National Basketball Championships originally scheduled to be held in Assam. With the Sports Ministry's ruling to hold all official basketball events in the country, the upcoming national camp and the South Asian Championship in Bengaluru both seem likely to be affected, too.

To elect the 26-member executive committee in the BFI, 41 out of 62 voting members were present for the elections in Pune, reported Amit Sampat on his article for The Times of India. Only 24 voters were present in Bengaluru and failed to fill all the 26 executive posts, so only a 19-member committee was formed.

The biggest victims of this new setback will be India's basketball players, who will continue to miss the opportunity to showcase their talents or improve their game until the administrators on top figure out their power struggle. India can have no more official basketball until Team Govindraj and Team Mahajan bring their differences to an amicable solution, after which the government will have to give their go-ahead, and only then will the ministry reverse its decision. Since this is India, all that process could take anything from a week to six months.

Divya Singh, India's former basketball captain and a talented young coach, took out her frustrations on Twitter yesterday. "It's so sad basketball is in its darkest time in India," she wrote, "Politics can do so much harm. Stop politics let players play."

The ball has been deflated right now, but anything that goes down must come up. We will remain cautiously optimistic and hope for a solution to this on-going drama as soon as possible. Hopefully, the the basketball can bounce back up again.


  1. basketball a joke in my state

  2. Way too much politics in india overall if they just sort things out - it has the potential to be a very powerful nation! but the people and politics just bring everything down!