India’s athletes back in the Olympics; flag to fly in Sochi
SOCHI, Russia — The IOC lifted the suspension of India’s Olympic committee Tuesday, allowing Indian athletes to compete under their national flag for the rest of the Sochi Games.
The International Olympic Committee’s decision came too late to help Shiva Keshavan, who had already finished competing in the luge, but he said some good could come out of the sanction.
"I think all the athletes want to see change and want to see good governance," he told The Associated Press.
The IOC executive board reinstated the Indian Olympic body after it held a weekend ballot that complied with ethics rules barring corruption-tainted officials from running for election.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the lifting of the suspension takes immediate effect, meaning cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal and slalom skier Hamanshu Thakur are now free to compete for India.
It is the first time in history that a suspension of a national Olympic body has been lifted during the games, the IOC said.
India was suspended in December 2012 for electing scandal-tainted Abhay Chautala as president and Lalit Bhanot as secretary-general, and the ban was a major embarrassment for the world’s second most populous nation.
Bhanot spent 10 months in jail on corruption charges stemming from the organization of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, while Chautala is charged in a recruitment scam not related to sport. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
Adams said the IOC was satisfied with the changes after the Indian Olympic Association held elections on Sunday accorded to the new constitution and installed world squash chief Narayna Ramachandran as president. Chautala and Bhanot were ineligible to stand this time.
Organizers planned a special ceremony at the Olympic Village to raise the Indian flag, five days after the three athletes marched into the opening ceremony behind an Olympic flag and as independent athletes.
Keshavan, India’s top winter sports athlete, said the election issue and suspension dampened his excitement at last Friday’s opening ceremony, where the Indian athletes spoke about the problems while waiting in the tunnel to make their entrance.
"That enthusiasm wasn’t there that I generally feel at the opening ceremony," Keshavan, who finished 37th in a 39-man field in the luge on Sunday, told the AP. "The whole world is watching and when the Indian flag doesn’t fly, people know that it’s because of corruption and it’s not a nice image for the country."
The team will be able to parade behind the Indian flag at the closing ceremony on Feb. 23.
"You have a lot more behind you when you go with your country’s flag," he said.
IOC member Randhir Singh, a former secretary-general of the Indian Olympic body, told the AP from New Delhi that the reinstatement to the Olympics is "great news for Indian sport."
"It’s time everyone understands that the Olympic charter is supreme," Singh told the AP in a telephone interview. "It is important that sport is run well and tainted officials are kept out in a country of 1.2 billion in which 40 per cent is youth."
Ramachandran heads the new Indian committee, with Rajeev Mehta becoming secretary general and Anil Khanna elected as treasurer.
Ramachandran, who served as treasurer of the IOA from 2008-12, is the younger brother of Narainswamy Srinivasan, who is the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and is set to become chairman of the International Cricket Council.