Change of guard at JFI kindles new hope

avtar singh

Former Judo Federation of India (JFI) president Mukesh Kumar’s list of unethical practices was not limited to issuing bogus certificates to disqualified players for kickbacks, for backdoor admission in medical and engineering institutes during his term as JFI head. Tehelka had brought to light how for the first time in 1989, Kumar submitted fake sports documents to acquire a job in Sports Authority of India.

The good news for the Judo players is that Kumar is no longer with JFI as Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab, Partap Singh Bajwa, took charge of the Federation in the first week of February this year. Whether Kumar chose to resign from the post after the fake certificate controversy, or it was a decision taken by the Federation to oust him, remains unclear. The players are all in praises for the new president. Judokas see a new dawn in the Judo Federation with the elevation of Bajwa to the JFI’s top post.

Tehelka reached out to Bajwa to seek his views about his predecessor Mukesh Kumar, who not only risked the future of many Judokas by issuing fake sports certificates to them for kickbacks but also left behind a taint on the Federation. His response was, “The issue of certificates is a subject matter of a writ petition pending before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court and sub judice. Hence, would request you to look into the said petition and proceedings.”

Partap Singh BajwaAt the cost of players

It cannot be forgotten how Kumar brought disgrace to the reputed JFI and made the players pay a heavy cost for his vested interest [refer to Tehelka’s exclusive report ‘Judo too marred by sports scandal’ (Issue 7, Volume 15)]. He was accused of discouraging the spirit of the sportsmanship by not sending some of the promising players like Avtar Singh to participate in three significant international championships in 2016.

The noted Indian Judoka and Olympian, Avtar Singh, says, “Early in 2016, me and three of the Judokas expressed our interest to participate in three prestigious international championships — Pan American Open 2016, American Open 2016 and Judo Grand Prix. We were told by the then JFI president Mukesh Kumar that the government didn’t have funds to send the players to the events. Without a second thought, we became ready to pay the cost to Kumar. We all requested him to initiate the process and make the necessary arrangements to send us to the tournaments. Soon, we handed him almost between 50,0000-1,00,000 (per head) for accommodation and other expenses. Days passed by but there was no sign of him or any word from the JFI. Then came the time of the events, Kumar didn’t send anyone of us to any of the championships. That moment struck us like huge disappointment and discouragement of our life. Money lost, opportunity lost!”

According to Avtar, the year 2016 could have helped many grassroots level players carve a niche in Judo and make a flourishing career or gain viable employment opportunity out of it. “I tell you, India missed out at least 10 laurels that year because of Kumar and his vested interests. The year 2016 was actually the year of potential opportunity for many Judokas and Judo had we been sent to play
at the international events. By now, Judo would have been recognised and become a known sport in India, as much as cricket, hockey, boxing or tennis.”

mahesh kumarThanks to Kumar’s apathy, many Judokas lost the opportunity in 2016 to win various scholarships that could have helped them grab employment opportunities. Despite being wary of their reaction, Kumar was rigid enough to keep all the money of the players. Perturbed and demotivated by Kumar’s action, the players began to pressurise him and the Federation for releasing their money. “We, somehow, managed to spend trivial amount out of it in Judo sport,” says the Olympian Judoka.

Rest of the amount was still held up with Kumar till a few months back when Yashpal Solanki, Judoka and coach, initiated a complaint against his wrongdoings through a PIL in Delhi High Court in 2017. Solanki’s persistent fight for players’ rights forced Kumar to release some amount to the players. “While 40 per cent amount was released to the players few months before the end of 2017, the remaining amount was returned a while ago, i.e. two months back this year,” says Singh.

It would be unfair to hold Kumar culprit alone for the Judo sports scandal or misappropriation of foreign funds as such loophole is never possible without the connivance of officials and higher authorities from the fraternity. This is no less than a cobweb.

“Very shameful to see some of the officials from the Judo Federation are equally hands-in-glove with Kumar. How could they safeguard such a corrupt person like Kumar? And, all the favouritism just to earn some personal advantage and money?” retorted Singh.

About his expectations from the new president of JFI, Avtar said, “I am hopeful that Partap Singh Bajwa ji will improve the state of Judo sports and Judokas in India. At the moment, we are in dire need of Judo hall (indoor stadium) or say personal training camp for Judo training, practices, accommodation, etc. You can easily find personal training camp for sports like boxing or wrestling in India, but in Judo sport, the facility is unavailable. Secondly, superior training facilities and more exposures to the Indian Judokas are also needed.”
“Government observers should be appointed for every sports federation in India to protect the interest of the sports and sportsmen. It should be made sure that no such scandal happens in the future. Appointing government observers will also help instil fear among the wrongdoers in the sports fraternity,” he added.