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Indians can still participate in Olympics as independent athletes

05 Dec 2012, 19:23 IST

Independent Olympic Athletes at London 2012

India’s disaffiliation from the IOC has left its athletes with only one way to participate in the Olympics, besides of course marrying a Pakistani cricketer and changing one’s nationality. The option is to participate as independent athletes. Here, we find out about the times in the past when athletes have taken this step.

The decision to disaffiliate India was taken on the first day of the IOC’s two-day Executive Board meeting in Lausanne. Re-affiliation may be on the cards later on, but right now we need to proceed with the mindset that it’s not happening any soon. And we need to figure the options available to our athletes.

Here’s what India’s suspension means:

- Indian Olympic Association will stop receiving funding from Indian Olympic Committee.
- IOA officials will be barred from attending Olympic meetings and events.
- Indian athletes will be barred from competing in the Olympics under the flag of India. They can instead choose to do so under the IOC flag as independent athletes.

The athletes from India, who qualify for Olympics, aren’t blackballed from participating at the Olympics. They can compete as a independent Olympian.

There have been independent participants at the Olympics since a long time. But there haven’t been consistent independent teams with a set etymology for their names and country code conventions. There have been three occasions of Independent Teams participating at the Summer Olympic Games:

Independent Olympic Participants, 1992
Individual Olympic Athletes, 2000
Independent Olympic Athletes, 2012

Note that they all had different names. Maybe in 2016, they will name it something like ‘Individual Olympic Participants’, going by the random pattern followed in the naming of the past independent teams.

Here’s what the independent participation looked like on each occasion:

1992 Summer Olympics

Team: Independent Olympic Participants, 1992

In 1992, athletes from two republics, Republic of Macedonia and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, competed at the Olympics as Independent Olympic Participants. In case of the former, they did not have a National Olympic Association, and the latter was under UN sanctions, preventing it from taking part in the global event.

However, it’s quite a different situation for India. We have an Indian Olympic Association which has failed to follow the guidelines of the International Olympic Association. Indian Olympic Association chose to comply with the law of the land and went by the Sports Code instead of the law which it was formed to follow, that of the IOC. This is in violation of the IOC’s guideline of having the National Olympic Association independent of political pressures.

I guess it would have been more honourable to have our athletes take part independently because of either of those reasons which barred Macedonia and Yugoslavia, rather than the incompetence on the part of the country’s sports bodies.

Rundown of Independent Athletes at 1992 Olympics

58 athletes
3 medals

16 Independent Paralympic Participants
8 medals

2000 Summer Olympics

Team: Individual Olympic Athletes, 2000

East Timor was undergoing a transition to gaining independence and its athletes formed the Individual Olympic Athletes at the 2000 games. This contingent didn’t win a single medal.


4 athletes
2 Paralympic athletes

2012 Summer Olympics

Team: Independent Olympic Athletes, 2012

This is the parade dance of the team of independent athletes in London Olympics:

Athletes from the dissolved Netherlands Antilles and South Sudan participated as Independent Olympic Athletes in London. Kuwait was also allowed to send athletes through this procedure as their NOC was suspended, but it was reinstated in time, allowing them to participate under their national flag.

Forgetting the disgrace of not being able to send a team to the Olympics, representing the country as a independent team wouldn’t be too bad for the athletes, if that viral video is anything to go by. Those ‘aazad panchis‘ seem to be having a good time. There is another silver lining to disaffiliation, as Abhinav Bindra has pointed out:

In an uncertain world rife with political strife and incompetency, it’s good to know that there is an option for athletes caught in the middle through no fault of their own, to have an option to participate in the Olympics. Also, they are cheered on by every nation at the Olympics, barring their direct competitor.

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