August 31, 2019

Despite India's recent basketball ineptitude, FIBA rewarded BFI's K. Govindraj with the 2019 Asia President Award

At the eve of 2019 FIBA Men's Basketball World Cup, the International Basketball Federation honoured the best national federations from around the world in a glittering awards ceremony in Beijing, China, at the Sheraton Grand Beijing Dongcheng Hotel. According to FIBA's website, the ceremony was part of FIBA's XXI Congress. It "recognizes the most successful National Federations across a variety of awards."

The usual suspects walked home with the top honours. USA won for top rankings across the board. Other nations were honoured for tangible performances, like top rankings in junior levels, or in 3x3, or for featuring the most active 3x3 players, or for top social media presence, etc.

Last on the list of awards, however, was something that felt a little more subjective. The FIBA Presidents Award 2019, awarded to the leader of a National Federation from each continent. "This award," FIBA wrote, was"to recognize the work, commitment and positive impact on basketball made by each person and their National Federation during the past 5 years and was selected by FIBA President Horacio Muratore."

And for some inexplicable reason, the President Award for Asia went to... India's own K. Govindraj, President of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI).

From one angle, this is a matter of great pride for Indian basketball. We are fortunate - nay, honoured - to have a basketball president that has apparently had a better impact on the sport in the past five years than any other in the entire Asian continent - of all the other 44 nations. After a tussle in 2015 for leadership of the BFI, Govindraj's faction was recognised by FIBA over their opponents. So, Govindraj's honour was technically granted for less than the five-year stretch.

A stretch that included basketball not even being recognised by India's own government, a stretch that included the worst losing streak in recent history of India's men's basketball team, a stretch that included Indian players being unfairly banned by the federation, of an inexplicable "clerical error" that kept our top players out of important FIBA qualifiers, of embarrassing losses in those same qualifiers, of the federation creating obstacles for Indian players to chase other professional opportunities, of the BFI promising professional leagues and not delivering them, of poor public relations, of a website hardly updated, of social media accounts mostly barren, of the growth of a sport stunted.

The pros: BFI has made Bengaluru - their headquarter city - the de-facto home of most of FIBA Asia's Women's championships since 2017, including the 2017 FIBA Asia Championship for Women, the 2017 FIBA U16 Asia Championship for Women, the 2018 FIBA U18 Asia Championship for Women, and the upcoming 2019 FIBA Asia Championship for Women. This is awesome.

The cons: basically, everything else.

Govindraj's recent award came on the heels of a couple other honours from FIBA since 2017, including being appointed a member of the FIBA Competitions Commission and being elected as a member of the Central Board of FIBA Asia. In an article published earlier today on Ekalavyas, Gopalakrishnan R. succinctly pointed out how Govindraj's rise in ranks in FIBA has coincided with India's men's team's nosedive in performance. The on-court failures have been directly related to all the other chaos and mismanagement ailing the federation in Govindraj's tenure.

But FIBA, for some reason, continue to recognise him for his "work, commitment, and positive impact on basketball" in India, more than anyone else in the entire continent. Is it a case of FIBA judging solely by the surface-level events organisation, ignoring all of the rot beneath? Or (and more likely), is it because of Govindraj's connections and friendships with influential people in FIBA, helping his cause overseas, even though most basketball followers in the country have seen the federation fail the sport again and again over the past few years?

It was in July 2014, a little over five years ago, that India had arguably its greatest modern basketball moment, defeating Asia's finest squad - China - on their home floor in Wuhan at the [formerly-known] FIBA Asia Cup. This victory followed a couple more big international moments before the big dip: the political struggle for the federation at home, the disillusionment of star players with the federation, the bans, the losses. Over the past few years, the best Indian basketball stories - for Men, at least - have come despite the federation, of players rising to international leagues or making it to colleges abroad via other means.

And yet, Govindraj - and Indian basketball - have their honour. It is undeserved. Maybe the best-case scenario now is that, perhaps, it can be used retroactively, to urge FIBA to expect real progress from India, and for Govindraj to actually deliver it. Or at least, I hope so.

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