Suspended India elects tainted official
NEW DELHI (AFP) –
The suspended Indian Olympic Association announced the election of a tainted sports official as its secretary-general on Wednesday, rebuffing the world governing body IOC.
Lalit Bhanot, out on bail after being jailed for 11 months on corruption charges during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, was declared elected unopposed by the IOA’s general body.
The IOA’s acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra confirmed Bhanot’s election, adding that the general body had decided that the election process should not be put off despite the suspension.
“We had been ordered by the Delhi High Court to follow the government’s sports code in the elections and we have done that,” Malhotra told reporters in New Delhi.
“We can’t go against the law of the land. But we are confident we will be able to convince the IOC to revoke the suspension.”
Bhanot’s path was cleared last month when a rival faction led by International Olympic Committee member Randhir Singh withdrew from the contest for the association’s top posts.
The IOC Ethics Commission had in October specifically warned the Indian body against allowing Bhanot to compete in the election, which also saw his ally Abhey Singh Chautala take over as IOA president unopposed.
Bhanot was secretary-general of the organising committee for the 2010 Games which were hit by venue delays, shoddy construction and budget overruns that saw the cost of the event triple to $6 billion.
Bhanot told reporters after his election that he will resign his post if the courts pronounce him guilty.
“The elections were held in accordance with a court order,” Bhanot said. “I have offered to resign in case I’m pronounced guilty in the ongoing case against me.”
The IOC’s Executive Board had suspended India on Tuesday for not adhering to the Olympic charter and added the IOA “is not entitled to hold any election until all pending issues are resolved”.
The Indian government — which has been embroiled in corruption scandals — has kept its distance from the IOA during the dispute.
But on Wednesday the sports minister criticised the IOA for operating its own code of conduct which was at odds with government guidelines.
“The ministry told the IOA many times to amend its constitution and include the government’s sports code, but they did not listen,” Jitendra Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
“The IOC’s decision is very unfortunate,” the minister added. “We will do our best to ensure our sportspersons are not affected.”
Newspapers meanwhile lined up to condemn the IOA for “disgracing India” in its clash with the IOC, which means Indian athletes will not be able to compete in the Olympics under the national flag and will see funding frozen.
But many said the suspension could be a positive move to clean up the tainted sports administration.
“Golden day for Indian sports,” read a headline in the Hindustan Times, which added “the suspension has provided us with a chance to clean up the mess the Indian Olympic Association is in”.
Under the headline “Olympian Shame”, the Mail Today said the IOA had “become the playground of self-seeking officials and their political patrons… bringing disgrace upon India”.