In a rare move, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided Tuesday to suspend India's national Olympic body, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), citing bad governance and meddling by the Indian government.
The decision stunned the nation, but athletes and analysts say it could turn out to be beneficial by providing India an opportunity to clean up its messy and corrupt sports administration.
“Bye Bye IOA, hope to see u again soon, hopefully cleaner!” tweeted Abhinav Bindra, the only Indian to have won an individual gold medal at the Olympics.
Mr. Bindra had earlier written in the Hindustan Times newspaper, “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."
Snooker player Aditya Mehta tweeted, "Not surprised to see IOC's suspension of IOA.. Corruption cannot be tolerated.. Clean up the system India.."
India is not a sporting powerhouse at the Olympics, but the country has aspired to showcase its rising profile on the international stage by eventually hosting the Games. While those dreams look further off with this decision to punish the Indian sports bureaucracy, Indian athletes are unlikely to be barred from competing in international tournaments.
“One option before the IOC is to set-up an ad hoc committee to oversee the participation of Indian sports-persons under the IOC flag rather than the Indian flag,” says veteran Indian sports journalist Pradeep Magazine.
The IOC had warned it could take this extreme step as the Indian Olympic Association was holding elections under guidelines set by the Indian government, and not according to its own constitution. The IOC did not want the national government to undermine the autonomy of the IOA.
"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," says IOC Director of Communications Mark Adams.
"To preserve the autonomy is 50 percent of the decision, while the other 50 percent is the bad governance of the IOA itself," he adds. "When we will have both things that will be reversed, the IOC will reanalyze the situation and lift the suspension.
The Indian sports minister Jitendra Singh has blamed the IOA for the embarrassment. "The Indian Olympic Association is to blame for the current crisis. We told the IOA many times to amend its constitution and be compliant with the international rules," he told the Press Trust of India.
Beyond the technicalities, the issue is corruption and in-fighting among two factions within the Indian Olympic Association. IOC member Randhir Singh withdrew his candidature for the post of secretary-general of the Indian Olympic Association a month ago, leaving only one candidate in the race, Lalit Bhanot. Mr. Bhanot is out on bail after having served 11 months in jail for corruption charges in the XIX Commonwealth Games the IOA organized in Delhi in 2010.
India had hoped a successful Commonwealth Games would set the stage for a serious bid to host the Olympics, but instead the event was tarnished by shoddy construction, corruption allegations, and ticketing problems.
The IOC Ethics Commission had in October warned the Indian body against fielding either Bhanot or former IOA chief Suresh Kalmadi – who is also on bail over corruption charges. Many, including shooter Bindra, were opposed to Bhanot’s candidature pending corruption investigations.
The IOA president-elect Abhay Singh Chautala, known to be close to Kalmadi, has accused Randhir Singh of causing India’s suspension. "When he realized he did not have the majority to win the elections, Randhir used his contacts in the IOC to get at us," Mr. Chautala told AFP.
However, Mr. Singh tells the Monitor, ”This impasses will need to be resolved by the IOC, the IOA, and the Indian government together. It is definitely an opportunity for India to clean up its sports administration.”
Pradeep Magazine, the sports commentator, says that the Indian Olympics Association seemed to think the IOC would not take such a harsh step. They thought India was a powerful country the IOC wouldn’t want to embarrass, as the IOC also lets countries like China interfere in the functioning of their Olympic associations. The IOC however, has treated India like, say, Iraq or Iran.”