Although India's Men and Women's basketball teams are spending the fall travelling to China to take part in separate FIBA Asia Championships, the bigger games in Indian basketball have been taking place off the court. 2015 has been the year of a division within the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), the body in charge of all domestic and international basketball activities in the country. Earlier this year, two separate executive committees were formed in two different meetings giving the BFI two different, competing presidents: K Govindraj and Poonam Mahajan. Ever since then, the two committees have fought tooth and nail for the 'official' top seat in a bitter battle that has overshadowed the good of the game.
after failing to bring Team Govindraj in the same meeting as Team Mahajan to settle the scores, has sent out an order announcing the creation of an Ad-Hoc Committee to oversee the workings of the BFI and hold fresh elections within a few months. Just a few days after the IOA order, Team Govindraj has responded with a message supporting their own claim to the BFI and deeming the order 'illegal'.
To cut the long tale of litigation and accusations to a short story, the two claims to the BFI 'throne' are thus: the elections held by Team Govindraj were overseen by BFI's former president, RS Gill, which is a mandatory requirement as per the BFI constitution. Because of this, they were given the support and official recognition from the world' governing body of basketball - FIBA - and have been able to oversee India's participation at the FIBA-affiliated events. But Team Mahajan claim their support from the IOA, who have attempted to reconcile the two competing parties over the last few months. Due to the political connections of president (Poonam Mahajan) and general-secretary (Roopam Sharma), Team Mahajan have been able to persuade favours from the IOA and the Government's Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (Sports Ministry). A few weeks ago, Team Govindraj had sent a previous letter to all units staking their claim over the BFI.
On September 9 2015, the IOA's Secretary General Rajeev Mehta and President N. Ramachandran signed an office order announcing the creation of an Ad-Hoc committee led by Volleyball Federation of India's CEO K. Murugan (Chairman), Anandeshwar Pandey, and Kuldip Vats to find "a permanent solution to the issue which has arisen in the Basketball Federation of India and also in order to avoid further litigation". The IOA claims that FIBA issued a letter to the Sports Ministry to "look into the dispute in the Basketball Federation of India". In the order, the IOA adds that both factions of the BFI were called for a meeting to put forth their stands and claims in regards to the management of the BFI a few months ago. Despite four opportunities given, only one faction showed up (Team Mahajan), leading thus to the creation of this Ad-Hoc committee. The committee also plans to hold fresh elections for the Executive Board of the BFI within a period of two months of giving notice to all affiliated members (state federations/associations, etc) "in accordance with the constitution of the Basketball Federation of India so that the disputes which has arisen in the Basketball of India may be put to rest".
I welcome this decision," Mahajan told the Times of India, "Resolving the matter is very much required so that the game and young players won't suffer. I am thankful to the sports ministry that they hve taken this matter seriously. Thankfully, there will be some conclusion now and the sufferings of the players will come to an end. We all will abide by the Government of India's decision."
Two days later - on September 11 - Team Govindraj sent a response to IOA's office order, signed by their general-secretary Chander Mukhi Sharma. In the response titled "Illegal IOA order" and sent to the presidents and secretaries of all affiliated units of the BFI, Team Govindraj claims to put straight the facts, claiming, among other matters that the constitution of the IOA does not have provision form making an Ad-Hoc commitee for any National Sports Federation (NSF) that is recognized by an international federation. In this case, the NSF is the BFI, and the international federation is FIBA. Team Govindraj alleges that no such letter was sent by FIBA to look into the BFI dispute, and that they - Team Govindraj elected in Bengaluru on March 27 2015 - already have FIBA affiliation. The letter ends with the announcement that the 32nd Youth National Championship for Boys and Girls will be starting as scheduled on September 14 in Bhavnagar (Gujarat) and reminded affiliated units of the participation of their teams. The letter was CC'd to top secretaries of the Sports Ministry.
Govindraj, in an interview with the Times of India, reiterated his committee's claim. "First of all, we are recognized by the FIBA. Till date, FIBA has not written any letter to the sports minister. The office order issued by the IOA is a bogus letter. They can do anything and because of the political pressure, they have done this. To stop the youth national championship in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, they have issued such a letter. We will anyhow conduct the national championship."
The battle will continue to rage on, especially since the IOA's Ad-Hoc Committee is now planning re-elections of the executive committee in a few months. The likely scenario is that Team Govindraj and their supporters will continue to run the BFI as they see fit, while Team Mahajan and their supporters will elect another separate Executive Committee. And as things stand now, it is likely that each committee will refuse to recognize the legality of the other. With the states and units divided in India, the participation of the players and their opportunities will be divided, too.
And at the end of the day, it is the basketball players in India who - as usual - become the innocent pawns in this power struggle.