Basketball: Turbans are the bane of FIBA’s existence


It’s official. Turbans are cool. Turbans are in.

No, we’re not talking about “Turbanator” Harbhajan Singh and his much awaited return to the Indian cricket side.

We’re not even considering Navjot Singh Sidhu and his witticisms in the commentary box.

We’re ruminating on basketball and a call for action issued by US lawmakers to permit Sikhs to wear their article of faith on court.

The clothed headgear was banned under the rule that players cannot wear equipment or objects that could  injure team-mates or opponents.

At the 2014 Asia Cup, Indian cagers, Amritpal Singh and Amjyot Singh, were forced to take off their turbans under the archaic law. The national side were facing Japan.

The Sikh code of conduct states:

“A Sikh is expected to keep all hair intact and the head covered. The rule of dress for every Sikh man is to wear a turban. The Sikh woman may wear a turban or elect instead to wear a kind of traditional headscarf. A woman may also wear a scarf over a turban if she so desires. A Sikh accustomed to wearing a turban feels naked without it.”

Narrow headbands are permitted by FIBA but that would hardly address the Sikh issue. Sikhs are never to cut their hair since birth. Headbands would barely begin to cover their tresses.

This is the second time US lawmakers have come down harshly on the basketball federation’s directive.

In August 2014, senators Joseph Crowley of New York and Rep. Ami Bera of California along with 22 members of Congress sought a repeal of the discriminatory policy.

This time, it’s a sum total of 39.

The turbaned community from India have not been the only victims.

Qatari women players have been prevented from wearing hijabs while representing their country.

The Maldives women’s team forfeited their games in an under-18 tourney rather than appear without traditional head coverings.

FIBA initially agreed to test out a re-framed policy for a trial period of two years.

This fresh petition seeks the status of the trial.

The Congressmen said:

“We have seen time and again that sports have the power to unite – basketball included. The sport has gained in international stature in recent decades and is increasingly popular in countries where the use of a turban is commonplace.

We urge you to amend your policies to ensure that people all around the world have an equal opportunity to play the game.”

They added:

“Sikhs participate in a wide variety of sports around the globe, and there has not been a single instance of someone being harmed or injured by a turban. Even at the amateur and professional levels, Sikhs have played sports without a problem.

For example, Sikh American Dipanjot Singh played Division I basketball at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Singh then went on to play semi-professional basketball in several leagues.”

The onerous practice raised fears that the game will die out in Punjab, the state from which most Indian Sikhs hail.

Amjyot Singh said:

“If my son wants to play basketball in the future, I will never let him get into the game.” 

He added:

“People know us because of basketball. It gives us jobs and brings food to the table. The game is everything for us. But the sport will lose many talented players from Punjab if they don’t rethink this rule. The first time we were told, I felt very sad. It was like a part of body was gone… My father also played basketball and he told me to quickly finish my playing years.”

Another Punjabi hoopster, Jaspreet Singh, said:

“No one has ever been hurt because a Sikh player wore a patka, but they think we’ll hide weapons. If seniors were compelled to cut their hair to play, then it’s bad for us juniors because even we’ll have to make a decision. I’ll not cut my hair if it comes down to choosing.”

It is alarming that while sports knows no boundaries, FIBA insists on an exclusionary policy.

Basketball is a cool sport.

It’s fun, it’s dynamic and even more fast-paced than soccer or hockey.

The playing rules are simple to understand.

All you need is a ball and a hoop.

Does basketball need to cling to such a hide-bound stipulation?

There is always the possibility that officials may dismiss such petitions as not really being a Western or progressive nation’s problem. Is that truly the case? Muslims, across the world—post 9/11, have taken to sporting beards to accentuate their religious beliefs.

Can the sport and its officials ignore a pushback from Western and Westernised Muslim women  reverting back to the hijaab attire? Not because they’re not educated or non-progressive but simply to display their faith with pride. Does the issue then not become one of their own?

We can wish that the world become more progressive, more ‘modern‘, more cosmopolitan. But wishes are not horses and we need to be there for the ride.

At a time, when the NBA is hell-bent on discovering new markets spelled India and China, can its parent association afford to be out of step with the times?

English: Photograph of Bhagat Singh Thind, the...
Photograph of Bhagat Singh Thind, the first Sikh to serve in the American military (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Turbanators are  probably a non-issue. Indian Sikhs represent the country proudly in different sports—headgear intact. They can always be cited as precedent enough.

But the hijaab on court?

That’s a finer issue where hairs will always be split and thus, perhaps, the subject of further debate.

Maybe it simply boils down to is whether it’s optional or mandatory. It ought to be a personal choice. It is a personal choice. That’s empowerment, that’s choice, that’s real.

Australia versus England: Who shall have the Ashes?


I really didn’t want to write this article; I haven’t been catching the Ashes—the war of the English roses  and the Australian wattles—a tradition itself within a traditional game.

It’s not that I don’t like cricket or that I’m overly patriotic and catch mostly India games (which I do) but I simply cannot bring up any passion for watching this series.

The Ashes—on television—are a visual treat; the commentating is excellent and there’s everything very attractive about the packaging of a historic rivalry that evokes memories of battles past.

I wish Indian television were able to come up with a better presentation of the  Indo-Pak rivalry but aside from the jingoism it revisits, there’s little to recommend for couch aesthetes.

The five-match series began with the Aussies favoured by one and all. After all, they were the ODI world champs and had thrashed their Trans-Atlantic foes comprehensively in the series Down Under. The pundits predicted that Alistair’s goose was Cooked.

England surprised one and all by winning the first Test. But the Aussies were out for blood in the second and prevailed in a somewhat one-sided encounter.

Steve Harmison in action at the Oval for Engla...
Steve Harmison in action at the Oval for England’s One Day International side against Bangladesh on 16 June 2005 Image created by the author with Nikon D70 + 70-300mm Nikkor G lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To everyone’s surprise, the third Test ran along similar lines. Except this time, it was the home side that dominated from Day One. The return of Steve Finn implied that England now had three wicket-taking pacers; the weakness of this side has been that the support pacers are  there simply to make up the numbers; they never were strike options.

Can Finn be the Steve Harmison of this side? Remember Stevie, from the 2005 Ashes in tandem with Freddie Flintoff pushing the Aussies on the backfoot in the absence of Glenn McGrath and the first signs of what was to come once  Warne and he exited the greats.

England , not too long ago, were number one; they ascended to that pole position when they beat India at home in 2011. It is a number they have since ceded to South Africa.

Can they lay the foundation for another push at that supreme figure?

The next two Tests are crucial. Has the momentum shifted in England’s favour?

Will the Aussies bite back with venom?

The urn beckons.

 

Team coach Roelant Oltmans assures continuity in tactics


If Indian hockey fans were wondering that a change in coaching personnel could have the Indian men’s team floundering with a different set of tactics or coaching methodology, High Performance Director and current coach Roelant Oltmans moved swiftly to address the ‘non-issue‘.

He said:

“During our practice at Shilaroo, we have been working on our attack as well as defence and in the process inculcating in us the attitude to win. 

Defending we do with 11 players and attacking we do with 11 players. Each and every one has a role and they are aware of it.

When we are attacking and we are in the final quarter of the pitch, then our defenders should not stay close to our D. Rather they have to push up and be in a position so that if we lose possession then we have to immediately regain possession.

If our defenders are far back then that leaves a gap in the midfield and in case opponents get possession then that immediately puts pressure on the goalkeeper. So we have to keep our structure in place with our roles specified and this helps get the best out of the team.

I always divide the game in two parts — possession and non possession — and this depends on the skills as well as our cohesion on the field.

With possession we have to ensure that it results in creating scoring opportunities and even capitalising on them. In non possession we have to work on how well to defend, how do we push the attack back and look at getting the possession back.”

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Field hockey. T...
Pictograms of Olympic sports – Field hockey. This is unofficial sample picture. Images of official Olympic pictograms for 1948 Summer Olympics and all Summer Olympics since 1964 can be found in corresponding Official Reports. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

India skipper Sardar Singh said:

“During our training, we enhanced our fitness levels. The team is confident and looking forward to the tour. We have around 35 international games before Rio Olympics and we want to make the most of them. 

Our first match is against France and they have been playing brilliant hockey in the recent years. They will be a challenge for us. We are confident of doing well against France and Spain.”

Oltmans was the man who both approved and dismissed his compatriot Van Ass. The European approach selected was probably first run by him as High Performance Director and then implemented by his countryman.

Team India embark on an European tour where they will play France and Spain in five games.

Continuity in tactics introduced by Oltmans’ predecessor Paul Van Ass will alleviate turbulence and turmoil in the side following the sudden exit and dismissal of Van Ass.

Sardar’s disclosure that fitness issues are being addressed is welcome news. The Total Hockey concept is workable only if the men in blue are able to keep pace with their stronger rivals throughout the game. They should not fade in the final quarter.

Tour results will be closely followed by hockey fans and we can only hope that Indian hockey is moving in the right direction.

Oltmans, however,  struck a somber note about India’s chance at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics.

He said:

“If you ask me can we win [gold] at the Olympics Games, [I would say] it’s a challenge.

The last Olympic Games [London 2012], India finished 12th. The last World Cup [2014], India finished 9th. Numbers, facts, nothing more, nothing less. Do you believe in two years’ time you can win the gold medal? Answer yourself.

But we will strive for it, that’s 100 percent.

We know that we have been close to quite a number of teams and already defeated a number of top teams as well. Champions trophy, we beat Holland. Belgium, we beat them as well. Australia, we beat them quite a number of times in the last year, last time at the Azlan Shah Cup.

Is it possible [to win gold at the Olympics]? Yes, it’s possible. Is it consistently possible? Not yet. But we have one more year to work on that, and I will tell you one thing, we will.”

 

 

 

Dutee Chand beats testosterone and IAAF to compete for Rio


The Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) has ruled that India’s Dutee Chand is for all purposes, a woman, even more so when it comes to competitive athletics.

The hyperandrogenitic condition that produces a higher amount of natural testosterone than in most women is not conclusively proved causative of better or improved sporting performances.

This is a first for women in general and definitely a first for an Indian sportsperson of any gender.

The Rio Olympics beckon.

Can Dutee Chand make the best of the chance proffered her in time? Can she then bring home a medal?

What a turnaround that would be.

What  a complete news story it would make.

 

Q & A with Vladmir Putin (Humour)


Is FIFA President Sepp Blatter guilty of corruption?

No, Sepp is a good friend of mine and everyone knows I have never indulged in nepotism or cronyism.

Why do you wish to award Sepp a Nobel Prize?

Any man who can wield influence over 160+ nations and can get them to work together deserves a Nobel Prize. It doesn’t matter that he has to make promises of infrastructure and funds to some of them, but that’s beside the point. He’s a bloody genius. And look at the way he keeps getting elected over and over again. I wish I could say that of the Russian people; I have to jail my opponents instead.

Which Nobel prize would you gift the man?

The Nobel Peace Prize, of course.

Wouldn’t you prefer to receive the Nobel prize instead?

Are they handing out Nobels for hosting Winter Games and soccer World Cups? The Ukraine problem doesn’t look that good on my CV.

Who’s your preferred candidate as the next FIFA president?

Sepp, Sepp, Sepp!

Disclaimer: The personalities are real, but the quotes are made up. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

 

 

 

Boxing and wrestling are latest entrants to mushrooming leagues in Indian sport


It’s said about the Indian monsoon: When it rains, it pours.

Indian sport has been enjoying a monsoon of sorts over the past few years.

It’s been showering leagues.

The mushrooming of leagues in various sports and their live telecast whereby  converts to games other than cricket are drawn in can only be good news for Indian sport persons.

The latest entrants into the fray are the Pro Wrestling League and the Indian Boxing Council.

While the Pro Wrestling League is launched under the aegis of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) by Pro Sportify and consists of six city-based franchises each featuring 11 freestyle grapplers, six male and five female, the Indian Boxing Council acts as a licensee for promoters wishing to launch boxing leagues of their own across the country.

The council is, however, not affiliated to the Indian Boxing Federation which means that pugilists wishing to represent the country will stay out until the murkiness around the venture is cleared.

Boxers, who are past their prime, but still fighting fit are enthusiastic about the possibilities. It will add to their meager earnings from the sport.

Boxing and wrestling are sports that attract participants from lower-middle class families. This may just be their ticket out.

These sports are also the country’s best avenues for medals at the Olympic and Asian games.

The better the prospects for aspiring contenders, the better the training facilities offered and the more attractive  a career it is.

The world can be their oyster. Can Indian pearls seize their chances?

IPL spot-fixing scandal: Sreesanth, Chandila and Chavan go scot-free, not quite…


With S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan absolved of any  criminal complicity in the IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal and the BCCI drawing a line in the sand claiming that their ban on the aforesaid individuals will not be revoked, Indian cricket fans are in for more courtroom drama involving the BCCI and the freed trio.

Sreesanth at Adelaide Oval
Sreesanth at Adelaide Oval (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Delhi court order leaves the field open for the three players to challenge the nation’s premier cricket body and overturn the ban. This may be a long drawn-out process. There is no guarantee that if and when the ban is nullified, the players will be at their best. They have lost their prime years while serving the ban.

Mohammad Azharuddin, Nayan Mongia and Ajay Jadeja cleared  their names by taking on the BCCI via the Indian judicial system. Yet, only Jadeja was able to make a comeback of sorts to competitive cricket.

What must perplex every cricket aficionado is how and why one tribunal found the IPL players guilty and the other did not. The evidence presented in both cases was the same. Strange are the ways of the Indian judicial system and the BCCI.

The BCCI responded to the Delhi High Court’s verdict thus:

“Any disciplinary proceeding or decision taken by the BCCI is independent of any criminal proceeding and has no bearing. The decisions of the BCCI, based on its independent disciplinary action, shall remain unaltered.The BCCI has nothing to do with acriminal case between the police and individuals. The disciplinary proceedings of the board and the criminal case of the police are independent of each other. In certain cases a charge is enough in a departmental inquiry while the same charge is needed to be proved in a court of law.”

PR Raman, a former legal officer with the cricketing body, said:

“The standard of proof in a court is different from standard of proof in a BCCI inquiry. Acquittal in a court cannot have any influence on the BCCI action which was taken independent of court rules.The degree of strictness is different from a court and a domestic/departmental inquiry. The laws in courts are not similar to those in the BCCI. The BCCI goes by its own code of conduct.Savani had found out that they were hobnobbing with bookies. That is enough to prove the players guilty. Talking to bookies is unacceptable under the BCCI code.”

Mohammad Amir pulling on his jumper in the out...
Mohammad Amir pulling on his jumper in the outfield. Taken during Pakistan’s third Test against England in August 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were handed five, seven and ten years bans by an ICC tribunal. The criminal case that followed wherein the ICC verdict was not made available to the English press to prevent biasing any jury found the above guilty of conspiracy to cheat at gambling and accepting corrupt payments. Butt and Asif were sentenced to 30 and 12 months in prison respectively while Amir was sentenced to six months in Feltham Young Offenders Institution.

The teen-aged fast bowler was freed after serving only half his sentence.

The ICC tribunal and the Southwark Crown Court were one in accord.

The discordant note struck yesterday  will have warning bells going off within the BCCI once more.

English: Mohammad Azharuddin Sangeeta Bijlani
Mohammad Azharuddin Sangeeta Bijlani (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BCCI fires off conflict of interest missive to members


When the BCCI stated that it would accept the Lodha Committee’s recommendations in toto, few believed it would make any substantial difference to its inner workings and the postponement of any decision about the suspended teams CSK and RR only fueled these suspicions.

The first inkling of sweeping changes in the offing occurred yesterday when the BCCI addressed the issue of conflict of interest in a letter to its members requested them to sign a declaration stating that they have no existing conflicts of interest in their capacities as officials with the BCCI or any state association.

The letter states:

“Conflict of interest is not about beliefs or biases. It is about a person’s roles and responsibilities, and the tendency or apprehension of bias that assumes to exist when duties, decisions or actions conflict. Deciding that someone has a conflict of interest is a description of a situation, not a judgement about the person or their actual beliefs.”

It also asks members to declare the absence of “any personal or family allegiance, bias, inclination, obligation or any interest of whatsoever nature, directly or indirectly which may in any way affect or provide any financial or any other benefit to me, my family or close relations or which may tend to interfere with or affect my objectivity, independence, impartiality and neutrality in any decision making process, acts and conduct relating to or arising out of discharge of my office of President/Hony. Secretary of …

It is a pity really that the antics of politicians and certain ‘luminaries’ within the BCCI and other national sports federations have tarred all who have been accused of conflicts of interest with the same brush.

The paucity of qualified people especially ex-sportspersons willing to be a part of sports administration is well known and there is always a possibility that there will be some entanglement of private and public roles and responsibilities.

That’s as it is. It should not be sufficient reason to jettison recent developments as non-viable or unworkable in an Indian context. This has been the bane of any attempt at reforms.

Let us revisit the definition of ‘conflict of interest‘ first.

Wikipedia states:

“A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests (financial, emotional, or otherwise), one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.

The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs. A widely used definition is: “A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.” Primary interest refers to the principal goals of the profession or activity, such as the protection of clients, the health of patients, the integrity of research, and the duties of public office. Secondary interest includes not only financial gain but also such motives as the desire for professional advancement and the wish to do favours for family and friends, but conflict of interest rules usually focus on financial relationships because they are relatively more objective, fungible, and quantifiable. The secondary interests are not treated as wrong in themselves, but become objectionable when they are believed to have greater weight than the primary interests. The conflict in a conflict of interest exists whether or not a particular individual is actually influenced by the secondary interest. It exists if the circumstances are reasonably believed (on the basis of past experience and objective evidence) to create a risk that decisions may be unduly influenced by secondary interests.”

Conflict of interest is best understood in the judicial context. It’s probably no surprise that Shashank Manohar, a lawyer by profession, was and is one of former BCCI supremo N Srinivasan’s staunchest critics.

“Judicial disqualification, also referred to as recusal, refers to the act of abstaining from participation in an official action such as a court case/legal proceeding due to a conflict of interest of the presiding court official or administrative officer. Applicable statutes or canons of ethics may provide standards for recusal in a given proceeding or matter. Providing that the judge or presiding officer must be free from disabling conflicts of interest makes the fairness of the proceedings less likely to be questioned.

In the legal profession, the duty of loyalty owed to a client prohibits an attorney (or a law firm) from representing any other party with interests adverse to those of a current client. The few exceptions to this rule require informed written consent from all affected clients, i.e., an “ethical wall”. In some circumstances, a conflict of interest can never be waived by a client. In perhaps the most common example encountered by the general public, the same firm should not represent both parties in a divorce or child custody matter. Found conflict can lead to denial or disgorgement of legal fees, or in some cases (such as the failure to make mandatory disclosure), criminal proceedings. In the United States, a law firm usually cannot represent a client if its interests conflict with those of another client, even if they have separate lawyers within the firm, unless (in some jurisdictions) the lawyer is segregated from the rest of the firm for the duration of the conflict. Law firms often employ software in conjunction with their case management and accounting systems in order to meet their duties to monitor their conflict of interest exposure and to assist in obtaining waivers.”

Wikipedia also lists the following methods for mitigation of conflicts of interest:

Removal

“Blind trust”

Disclosure

Recusal

N Srinivasan, in an attempt to retain his position as BCCI president, has placed his CSK shareholdings in a ‘players’ trust‘.  This, however, did not cut any ice with the Supreme Court since the remaining 71% shares were still owned by India Cements in which he and his family members hold a controlling interest.

Disclosure and recusal sometimes go hand-in-hand where the (usually prior) disclosure of a conflict of interest may lead to the official abstaining himself from any deliberations where a personal stake could affect the outcome.

The stakes are high. The aforesaid letter is just the beginning.

The next step would be for the BCCI and state associations to set out code of ethics and conduct for players, office bearers and umpires.

Will N Srinivasan see the writing on the wall and step down from the ICC?

Sarfaraz Khan joins the ‘moneyed’ big league


He made connoisseurs and critics alike sit up with his stirring performances for Royal Challengers Bangalore at this year’s IPL.

He’s switched loyalties from Mumbai to Uttar Pradesh in order to gain more playing time in the Ranji trophy and hopefully catch the selectors’ eye.

And now he’s been signed up by Sunny Gavaskar’s Professional Management Group (PMG) for a princely sum rumored to be in the range of Rs. 1.5 to 2 crores.

Royal Challengers Bangalore
Royal Challengers Bangalore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All this while he is yet to exit his teens.

What else can a 17-year-old want or seek?

His name is Sarfaraz Khan and he is not the next Sachin Tendulkar.

He is the first and only Sarfaraz Khan.

The move to UP is crafty and many will suspect Sunny’s guiding hand behind the decision.

Rohan Gavaskar turned out for West Bengal to improve his chances of playing for India.

That’s beside the point. The advice is sound.

What Sarfaraz Khan and his parents do not need is an incessant intrusion into his private and playing moments.

The lad is young and will have to prove his mettle over the years.

The dye is cast. Let the true colors shine through.

Major Dhyan Chand is the new men’s hockey coach (Satire)


(This is a work of fiction).

Following a special committee meeting ‘preponed‘ to Thursday, Hockey India chief Narinder Batra briefed the media on the selection of the men’s hockey coach.

English: Dhyan Chand
Dhyan Chand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Batra said:

“We have decided to select the late Major Dhyan Chand as the coach of the men’s squad until the 2016 Rio Olympics. We do not need foreign coaches. We have an illustrious forebear to look up to. Dhyan Chand is a source of pride and inspiration for all generations and we believe that he is the best we can present the boys under the circumstances. This is also HI’s way of posthumously honoring the man given the Indian government has yet to make him a Bharat Ratna.”

When asked how the players’ skills are   to be honed, given that Major Dhyan Chand is not a living personality, Batra replied:

“India has a proud tradition of guru-shishya relationships. Our boys will be modern-day Ekavalyas to Indian hockey’s Dronacharya. Just like Ekavalya proved himself to be a better archer than Arjun despite the master’s absence, our boys will prove themselves on the hockey field and cover themselves in reflected glory. As a mark of respect to Ekavalya who lost his thumb as ‘guru dakshina’, Hockey India will not accept sponsorship from the Coca Cola company, specifically its brand Thums Up, and will also be banning the hand sign as a congratulatory or celebratory gesture.”

It is learnt that life-size statues of the hockey great have been commissioned and will be installed at every practice field in the country. Smaller sized busts of the major  will accompany the team on tour.

Batra added:

“This practice is being tried on a trial-only basis for a period of one year. Should the hockey team fail to perform as expected, more life-size statues and busts may be commissioned of other Indian hockey greats or foreign coaches as desired. The cost savings are substantial and will improve Hockey India and Sporting Authority of India’s finances. This will also still mouths in the media that claim that I have an ego problem and am responsible for a ‘revolving door’ when it comes to selecting and firing key support personnel.”

Major Dhyan Chand’s family members declined to comment when contacted.

Disclaimer: All facts and quotes in this story are made up, but you knew that already, didn’t you?