India is out of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), with the latter suspending the Indian Olympic Association’s membership, for various breaches of the charter.
Accordingly, the IOA elections scheduled for tomorrow have been cancelled, a huge setback to both Haryana leader Abhay Chautala and the group being propped by Suresh Kalmadi, the body’s ex-head.
As of today, India is barred from contesting the Olympic Games under its own flag. Though the Games are four years away, this is a big embarrassment for the country. Suspension means IOA stops getting funding from the Switzerland-based IOC, and its officials are barred from attending Olympic meetings and events. India’s athletes will be barred from competing in Olympic events under the national flag and can participate only under the IOC banner.
This is a sequel to the various scandals dogging the country’s apex sports bodies. IOC had told India to clean up its act two and a half years ago, in June 2010 at a meeting in Lausanne, attended by a bureaucrat despatched by then sports minister Ajay Maken. At the heart of the problem were two issues: corruption in the administration of Indian sport and the government’s interface with sport. The mandate of the Olympics is that governments stay out of the management of sport. Members of the IOA, the IOC and the Government of India discussed the situation arising out of Maken’s efforts to clean up Indian sport, especially after Rs 2,500 crore was given by the government towards the Commonwealth Games (Delhi, 2010) that was overseen by the IOA but no satisfactory account given about how it had been spent. This was money that belonged to the Indian taxpayer and at least three members of the IOA and the Commonwealth Games organising committee — Suresh Kalmadi, Lalit Bhanot and V K Verma —had to go to jail on charges of corruption.
IOA considered all these issues and suggested a draft constitution for the Indian arm of the Olympics Committee, as well as the sports federations. Part of the constitution endorsed the government’s suggestion that persons above the age of 70 years be barred from becoming office-bearers, and that tenures be fixed.
According to lawyer Rahul Mehra, who has been fighting a battle to get some semblance of transparency and accountability restored to the administration of the Olympic Games, vested interests who handle sport administration in India defied this direction and in a meeting got another version of the constitution adopted by the governing Body of the IOA in February 2011.
The last straw was a ruling by the Ethics Committee of the IOC, that took note of the prison stays by three former IOA members; the former advised they stay out of elections. This was rejected by the IOA, which wrote to the IOC that as India was the world’s oldest democracy, the latter should not presume to teach it how to conduct elections. When Lalit Bhanot was elected secretary-general of the IOA, unanimously, the IOC decided to suspend the IOA.
In parallel, there have been several court rulings about the circumstances in which elections have been held, in cases filed by Mehra. The final ruling is expected later this month.
In a somewhat anaemic reaction, new sports minister Jitendra Singh said: “We kept writing to the IOC and they did not respond.”