NEW DELHI, May 3 – India's long-serving Olympic chief Suresh Kalmadi was on Monday given a government deadline to quit, prompting criticism five months before the country hosts the Commonwealth Games.
The sports ministry ruled that heads of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and national sports federations cannot remain in their posts for more than 12 years or beyond the age of 70.
Kalmadi, the chief organiser of the October 3-14 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, has served as IOA president for 14 years and turned 66 on Saturday.
But the ministry has allowed him and other sports chiefs to complete their current tenures, ensuring there is no break in preparations for the Commonwealth Games.
Kalmadi, whose current term ends in 2012, slammed the ministry’s ruling as "draconian" and an "assault on the autonomy of the federations".
"We were expecting this, but I am surprised at the timing with just 150 days to go for the Commonwealth Games," Kalmadi, who is also a lawmaker for the ruling Congress party, told reporters.
"At a time when the sports ministry should encourage us to win medals at the Games, it has taken a draconian step of attacking the IOA and the federations.
"We will not take this lying down and will take appropriate steps to preserve our autonomy."
Kalmadi has summoned an executive board meeting of the IOA on May 18 to discuss the next course of action.
"It is a ridiculous decision," said opposition lawmaker Vijay Kumar Malhotra, who has headed the country’s archery federation for 31 years.
"It makes no sense. People have served in parliament for 30 years, many of our ministers are above 70, so why this rule only for sports officials?"
Indian politicians, officials and businessmen have often been accused of turning sports federations into their personal fiefdoms, clinging to their posts for years to remain in the spotlight.
The row comes as Indian cricket is reeling from a scandal that has seen the ouster of Indian Premier League chief Lalit Modi.
Sports Minister Manohar Singh Gill defended the decision to limit sports chiefs’ tenures.
"This order will serve the best interest of sportspersons of the country and it will give an impetus to transparent and professional management of Indian sports in the new century," Gill said in a statement.
Former stars such as athlete Milkha Singh welcomed the regulations.
"It is a step in the right direction, it should have happened much earlier," said Singh. "It will lead to better people joining the federations and that can only be good for sports."
Among top officials who have clung to power, former sports minister Sukhdev Dhindsa has headed the cycling federation for 14 years, V.K. Verma has run the badminton association for 12 years and businessman B.S. Adityan has been volleyball chief for 12 years.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India, the richest sports body in the country, has a fixed tenure of three years for its president.