Facing banishment, IOA amends constitution to bar charged officials

The Indian Olympic Association amended its constitution Sunday in line with the International Olympic Committee’s insistence that all persons charged with an offense be prevented from contesting elections, paving the way for its return to the Olympic fold.

The changes were made at a meeting in New Delhi just two days ahead of a Tuesday deadline set for the Indian body, which wanted to bar only persons convicted for two years or more and leave the cases of those convicted for lesser periods to be judged by an internal committee.

The IOA had been facing the prospect of de-recognition after being suspended in December last year for not following its own constitution and electing tainted officials, notably secretary-general Lalit Bhanot, who spent 10 months in jail on corruption charges related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Bhanot and IOA President Abhay Chautala, charged in a recruitment scam not related to sports, are now among those ineligible to contest elections announced for Feb. 9.

"The IOA has unanimously decided to amend the relevant clause in its constitution which would bar charge-framed persons from contesting elections," IOA official S. Raghunathan told reporters. "Both Chautala and Bhanot said they will not contest the upcoming elections."

The IOC had been corresponding regularly for months with the Indian body in a bid to help finalize a new constitution but the situation had reached an impasse during a crucial period with the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Winter Olympics all scheduled for 2014.

India, which can hope to have its suspension lifted once the IOC approves the new constitution, had moved dangerously close to becoming the first country to be kicked out of the Olympic movement since South Africa was expelled for its racial segregation policies more than 40 years ago.

The IOC President Thomas Bach told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday that it was set to withdraw recognition of the IOA if it failed to comply with "rules of good governance" before an IOC meeting in Lausanne on Tuesday when India’s case was set to be discussed.

The Indian body has not been receiving IOC funding. Its officials have been banned from attending Olympic meetings and events and India’s athletes can’t compete in Olympic events under their national flag.

De-recognition of the Indian body would have left the country without an Olympic movement and participation of its athletes in top events under threat. There was also the possibility of other world sports governing bodies banning Indian sports federations.