Let people run

Greed is the root cause of the ongoing conflict between the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the organisers of various road races in the country.

Greed is the root cause of the ongoing conflict between the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the organisers of various road races in the country. The AFI wishes to control all athletic competitions. Laughably, it declares that various marathons — like the Mumbai Marathon or Delhi Half Marathon — are its properties. That's patently false. They are not the AFI's properties for they've been organised and nurtured by private companies like Airtel, Standard Chartered or TCS. The AFI's role in these races has been restricted to obtaining royalty and capitation fee — running into lakhs of rupees — from the organisers. These races have become extremely popular, attracting celebrities and a very large number of runners. For instance, last year’s Delhi Half Marathon had over 32,000 entries, and over 15 sponsors/partners. The AFI wants a larger chunk of the pie. It's about money.

It's not unprecedented for a sports association to desire complete control over a sport in an attempt to completely control the cash inflow. The Indian cricket board (BCCI) did the same when the rebel Indian Cricket League (ICL) was launched by the Zee group in 2007. The BCCI banned all the cricketers who associated with the ICL, which eventually collapsed. But the players benefited from the emergence of competition — the BCCI made a dramatic increase in the wages for the players at the domestic and international levels. 

There's a marked difference between the BCCI and the AFI. The former is an independent society, which now resembles a corporate entity with money-making as an objective. The AFI, though autonomous, can exist and operate only because it's supported by public funding. The road races, which attract people toward sport, should have been the AFI's own initiative in the first place. But now it wants to jump in for money. The AFI can't stop commoners from running, and it must not be allowed to ban the athletes who compete in the races as well.  

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