‘Everyone Wants a Bite of the Cherry’: The Struggle for Control of Olympic Sports in India
Soon after its formation, the IOA became a battleground for various regional factions. This contest for control in the early decades of its existence cannot be understood in isolation. Rather, it was part of the larger story of establishing hegemony over the Indian sporting scenario, which included dominance over two of the nation’s foremost passions, cricket and football. By the late 1930s, Bengal’s dominance over football and Bombay’s dominance over cricket was relatively secure, a feature that did much to shape the fortunes of Olympic sports in India.1 Having ceded ground to the west and east over cricket and football respectively the north led by the house of Patiala, and its trusted lieutenant G.D.Sondhi, was determined to establish a stranglehold over India’s Olympic affairs. At a time when British recognition and support proved to be pivotal in shaping the development of Indian football in the 1930s,2 Patiala was determined to enlist the support of the IOC in determining the future of Olympic sports in India. This explains the detailed updates sent by Sondhi to De Coubertin on the successful staging of the first Western Asiatic Games in Delhi in 1934.3
Just as the issue of control over the IOA had become contested by the early 1930s, the formation of the All India Football Association (AIFA) had triggered a bitter struggle between Bengal and the other Indian states for the control of soccer. This struggle, which intensified in 1930-36, was replicated in the realms of swimming, cycling, hockey and other Olympic sports, making the Indian sporting horizon of the 1930s a contested domain. Such discord between the regions continued into the 1960s and in part explains India’s poor performance at international sporting contests after independence in 1947.