Published August 23, 2013
NEW DELHI (AFP) – India's suspended Olympic administration is set for a showdown with the Games' world governing body over electing tainted officials -- with its insistence on "innocent until proven guilty" threatening its return to the fold.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in December after it elected Lalit Bhanot -- who is charged with corruption linked to the 2010 Commonwealth Games -- as its secretary-general.
The world body wants the the IOA to ban anyone charged with corruption or criminal offences from contesting elections, but Indian officials are unsure the rule would pass legal scrutiny.
The general body of the IOA is due to meet in New Delhi on Sunday to discuss a new 43-page constitution drafted by the IOC, which keeps tainted officials out of the election process.
If the constitution is not adopted before the IOA's next elections in September, India will remain outside the Olympic fold.
Several IOA officials fear the proposed constitution could be challenged in court because Indian law does not bar officials facing criminal charges from holding office, or even a parliamentary seat.
Tarlochan Singh, 80, one of the IOA's eight vice-presidents, said it was difficult to predict how Sunday's meeting would go.
"We all want India back in the Olympics and the general body is capable of taking the best course towards it," Singh told AFP.
"But there is definitely a problem because the law says a person is innocent till proved guilty.
"What will happen if a person is barred from contesting elections and he goes to court and earns a verdict in his favour? We need to take everything into account."
Former IOA boss Suresh Kalmadi, who has also been charged in the Commonwealth Games scandal, opted out of the December elections where his protege, Abhay Chautala, was elected president.
Kalmadi, a lawmaker of the ruling Congress party, and Bhanot were both charged with misappropriation of funds and bribery in awarding contracts for the Games.
The pair, who were released on bail, have denied any wrongdoing.
The Delhi Commonwealth Games were intended to showcase India on the global stage, but were marred by infrastructure problems, delays and widespread corruption allegations.
Suspension from the IOC means India does not receive funding from the world body and its officials cannot attend Olympic events, while athletes are barred from competing in the Olympics under the national flag.
Indian Sports Minister Jitendra Singh, who met IOC officials at its Swiss headquarters in Lausanne in May seeking a way forward, hopes the impasse will end soon.
"The government urges all concerned to ensure that individual interests should not come in the way of our national interest and the good of sports," Singh said in a statement.
"At the same time, the government places the highest emphasis on the standards of ethics and good governance as per the Olympic Charter."
Rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, India's only individual Olympic gold medallist, hoped the world body would succeed in its mission to rid Indian sports of corrupt officials.
"As an athlete, I am extremely pleased that the IOC is willing to clean up Indian sports," Bindra, who won the 10m Air Rifle gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said in a statement.
"I think all athletes would like to have officials who have best interest of Indian sports foremost in their minds."
India were embarrassed earlier this week when 17 athletes were thrown out of the Asian Youth Games in China for being overage. Four badminton players were also stopped from competing because their names had not been entered in time.