Indian sports fans may be engrossed in the finely-balanced cricket test-match series with England but even if the home team loses against the British it won’t be the worst thing to happen to the country in sporting terms this week.
That distinction goes to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) suspension of the India Olympic Association (IOA) after the latter held an internal election that saw officials tainted by corruption charges win influential positions. The IOC also cited concerns about governmental interference in IOA operations.
"The Executive Board decided to suspend the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) due to its failure to comply to the Olympic charter and its statute, fail to inform the IOC in a timely manner, and as a protective measure to government interference in the election process," said IOC Director of Communications Mark Adams, who added on Thursday that the elections, which went ahead despite the ban, do not count.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The IOC has had long-standing concerns about allegations of corruption in the IOA, especially with regard to the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi.
Lalit Bhanot, who spent 11 months in prison after allegations of corruption following the 2010 games, was elected as Secretary General. He denies any wrong-doing and has promised to quit if he is found guilty.
If the ban is not overturned, India will be banned from competing in any Olympic events, including the 2014 Winter Olympics and, more worrisome from India’s perspective, the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio. Funding, currently around $90,000, as well as various coaching and development programs will also cease.
"The IOA has lost all the rights covered by the Olympic Charter," said Pere Miro, director of IOC relations with national Olympic committees. "Today, for Indian athletes it is not possible to take part in any competition under IOC jurisdiction. The IOC has always had the intention to protect the athletes. But for the moment, there is no exception."
"The election process was tarnished since the beginning," said Miro. "What is absolutely clear is that what has happened in the past is null and what happens now is the same."
India won six medals at the 2012 Olympics, a relatively good performance for the country, but it is keen to start performing better in the global sports arena. The ban is a major blow for such ambitions.
There have been a variety of reactions in India but surprise does not seem to be one of them.
The IOA's vice-president, Tarlochan Singh has called for the government to step in.
“The government of India should come forward to tell to the IOC that this they have done in the interests of sport and then there should be a dialogue between IOC, IOA and [the] government of India," he said.
Indian Sports Minister Jitendra Singh said that the government’s options were limited and that he had warned the IOA that a ban was possible. "Once we knew about the mess we had written to the IOC but they never responded," he said, calling it an “unfortunate decision.”
It may not be a disaster for Indian sport. Some say that it is a chance to make much needed changes.
Former IOA chief Randir Singh is one individual making such claims. He insisted that the IOC is not anti-Indian.
"The mess that is happening today in the Olympic Commitee. I think what we are heading for now with this suspension is that it gives an opportunity to clean the mess," Randhir said.
"Let's focus on India. The sportsperson is more important than anybody and to the Olympic movement than to any office bearer.”
Abhinav Bindra, India’s first and only individual Olympic gold medalist to date, concurred, tweeting, “Bye Bye IOA, hope to see u again soon, hopefully cleaner!” Earlier Bindra had written in a newspaper op-ed, “If our Olympic association is banned, it could be a blessing in disguise. With no multi-sport event in 2013, Indian athletes could afford a moratorium of three to six months, and unite to change the present system."
Clean Sports India, a body set-up to try and end corruption, welcomed the ban. The organization hopes that it could be a turning point for the IOA. That remains to be seen.