New Delhi: The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday suspended the Indian Olympic Association for chronic violations of the international Olympic Charter, creating one of the most embarrassing episodes in Indian sports history.
The suspension could cost athletes in India financial support from funds provided by the international committee. It also means that unless the sanctions are lifted, Indian athletes cannot compete under the country's flag in Olympic events.
The IOC said in a statement that its executive board decided to suspend the Indian association because of "its failure to comply with the Olympic Charter and its statutes, failure to inform the IOC in a timely matter, and as a protective measure against government interference in the I.O.A.'s election process."
Most of India's sports leaders are politicians who are either too old or have been in power too long to meet international leadership guidelines. While the international committee has been warning Indian leaders for years about such problems, those leaders would have to surrender power to meet the international demands. That has not happened.
"The Indian Olympic Association did not do anything to prevent this suspension from happening because they would have to give up their positions to do so," said Boria Majumdar, a history professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and a co-author of "Olympics: The India Story."
In television interviews Tuesday night, several top Indian sports officials said they were blameless. Tarlochan Singh, the vice president of the Indian Olympic Association, said that his committee tried to amend its code to abide by international requirements, but it was overruled by the government.
"Our president, V. K. Malhotra, wrote six letters to the IOC but got no response," Singh said.
Vijay Kumar Malhotra, the acting president of the Indian Olympic Association, said in a TV interview that his group was caught among conflicting requirements from the international group, the Indian government and the Delhi High Court, which became involved in the issue.
"We can't go against the high court, we can't go against the government of India, and we can't go against the International Olympic Committee," he said. "We will try to find a way out after our meeting tomorrow."
The Indian Olympic Association is scheduled to hold elections on Wednesday, but Randhir Singh, the only Indian member of the International Olympic Committee, said that those elections did not meet the rules of the international committee.
"If the elections are not acceptable to the IOC, what are they holding the elections for?" Singh asked in a TV interview. "They should at least stop the elections."
The IOC forbids national sports leaders from continuing to serve in positions of responsibility after they reach the age of 70 or have served in their positions for eight years. Many of India's sports leaders have been in power for decades.
Malhotra, for instance, turned 81 on Monday and has been president of the Archery Association of India for more than 30 years. He is leader of the opposition in the Delhi Legislative Assembly and was arrested in connection with accusations of corruption in the awarding of contracts for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Top sporting positions in India provide prestige, international travel benefits and some control over sports jobs.
"And I don't see the political class surrendering their control," Majumdar said. "I think this controversy will go on for at least six to eight months."
With the exception of cricket and field hockey, India has a poor international record in sports. The 2012 Summer Games in London were India's most successful ever, but it still won only six medals - a fraction of the 88 earned by its neighbor China. The country's sports governing associations have been plagued by corruption and mismanagement, and its best athletes have sometimes feuded with sports leaders. Organized support for talented prospects is limited.
Sports enthusiasts in India have long fretted about the country's abysmal Olympic efforts.
Abhinav Bindra, who won the 10-meter men's air rifle event at the 2008 Games in Beijing for India's first individual gold medal, has criticized the Indian Olympic Association in recent days. In a column in The Hindustan Times on Saturday he called the situation with the association "a mess completely of their making" and said a ban could be "a blessing in disguise."
After news of the suspension emerged Tuesday, Bindra posted on his Twitter page, "Bye Bye IOA, hope to see u again soon, hopefully cleaner!"
© New York Times News Service
Story first published on: Wednesday, 05 December 2012 09:26 IST