The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) could not have started the New Year on a happier note after a turbulent 2013. It now has newly elected office-bearers, headed by N. Ramachandran, ending a 14-month ban.
Ramachandran, who is also the president of the World Squash Federation (WSF), will be under scrutiny of the the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which expects clean governance and transparency.
Ramachandran has barely one term to come up to the IOC’s expectations and fulfill all the promises IOA has made to the IOC and the Union sports ministry. This will be his first and last term as his three years in office will coincide with his turning 70, the upper age limit fixed by the government for any sports official to stay in office.
Ramachandran’s election as the IOA president marks the end of the era of the Kalmadis, Randhirs and the Bhanots who, like all powerful sports officials, ran the IOA as their personal fiefdom for over two decades.
In IOA’s 85-year history, Ramachandran is only the second chief from down south, after media magnate Sivanthi Adithan (1987-96). IOA otherwise has been controlled mostly by the royal family of the erstwhile princely state of Patiala.
For Ramachandran, who ironically enjoys the support of the very officials — Abhay Chautala and Lalit Bhanot — whose election was set aside by the IOC, one of the challenges will be to break the coterie system.
Ramachandran is a shrewd sport administrator. He has ruled the Squash Racquet Federation of India (SRFI) with an iron fist and, as the head of the WSF, almost made the game an Olympic sport.
In fact Ramachandran can learn some tricks from his elder brother Narayanaswami Srinivasan, who is the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), on how to end the clout of entrenched interests.
Unlike his predecessors, Ramachandran is perfectly poised to market Olympic sports and make IOA a cash-rich body like the BCCI. The country is riding high on the success of its athletes in the 2012 London Games, where they won a record six medals.
At a time when sponsors are looking beyond cricket, Ramachandran could not have come in at a more opportune time to head the apex body of Indian sports.
He does not prefer to talk much about his famous brother, who in July is likely to be elected as the first chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
It will be a rare sight in world sports to see two brothers head two powerful bodies around the same time.
Will it change the fortunes of Indian sport? That’s the million dollar question to which we have to await an answer.