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Mary Kom quits, Sushil Kumar and Akhil Kumar likely to be knocked out of observer posts

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The three have returned to active sports, and the government feels this could lead to a conflict of interest. 

New Delhi: Boxing legend M.C. Mary Kom and wrestling ace Sushil Kumar recently made golden comebacks, with Mary winning the Asian Championship gold medal in Vietnam, and Sushil starring at the National Championships. But their victories have come at a cost.

Mary has resigned as national observer with the Union sports ministry, while Sushil is set to lose his position too, as is boxer Akhil Kumar, who is training to turn professional. This is because the positions were created only for retired sportspersons.

Earlier this year, the sports ministry appointed 12 Olympians among 14 national observers, asking them to serve as the “eyes and ears of the government” for “free and transparent selection of teams”.

Top sources in the ministry had told ThePrint that all three athletes would be replaced shortly for returning to active sports.

Potential conflict of interest

The Centre had announced the appointment of national observers in March this year to help implement vision plans for key sports – across all aspects from selection policy to coaching plans, monitoring and assessment of athletes’ performance, and overall development of sports in the country.

They would also help develop strategies for the effective implementation of Mission Olympics 2020, 2024, and 2028, to improve India’s medal tally and performance.

The observers named in March were: Abhinav Bindra (shooting), P.T. Usha and Anju Bobby George (athletics), Sanjeev Kumar Singh (archery), Aparna Popat (badminton), Mary Kom and Akhil Kumar (boxing), Jagbir Singh (hockey), Somdev Devvarman (tennis), Karnam Malleswari (weightlifting), Sushil Kumar (wrestling), I.M. Vijayan (football), Khajan Singh (swimming), and Kamlesh Mehta (table tennis).

However, the guidelines for the selection of national observers explicitly state that the observer must be a “non-active sportsperson”, and “should have finished active sporting career at least five years back”.

While Mary, Akhil, and Sushil did fulfil the first criterion at the time of their appointment, the government began reviewing the situation, because any active sportsperson mentoring and watching over the sport she specialises in would open the door for charges of bias and conflict of interest.

“The guidelines are very clear. We cannot have active sportspersons as observers. Those who have come back to active sports again, will have to be changed,” a senior official told ThePrint.

“We will look at all national observers in this regard, and will be taking a decision within the next few days.”

No intimation yet

Reached for comment, Akhil Kumar told ThePrint that he had not received any communication on such a move from the ministry yet. He also pointed out the immense amount work being done as a national observer, and said that must also be taken into account.

Mary could not be reached for her comment while Sushil did not respond to requests for comment.

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