UPDATE: Insult to injury as defiant Indian Olympic body elects tainted official

IOC suspends Indian Olympic Association, declares elections void

UPDATE: The suspended Indian Olympic Association (IOA) defied the IOC and went ahead with its controversial election to pick a tainted official as its new secretary-general on Wednesday.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the IOA on Tuesday for allowing government interference in the election and said the body was no longer entitled to conduct the poll.

Defiant Indian officials went ahead with the election and named Lalit Bhanot as the new secretary-general of the national governing body after his rivals had pulled out.

Bhanot spent 11 months in custody last year following corruption charges that plagued the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and is out on bail.

The IOA had been directed by a Delhi court to hold the election under a controversial government sports code, while the IOC wanted it to follow its own constitution and the Olympic charter.

Boxing federation chief Abhay Singh Chautala, who was elected unopposed as IOA president, said the court order left them with no other option but to conduct the poll.

"I want to reiterate that we have done nothing wrong by going ahead with the polls. We have to obey the law of the land," Chautala told reporters.

Bhanot said he would quit his post if found guilty in the corruption case.

The IOC has dismissed the election outcome.

"Those elections are null and void, they won't count," IOC spokesman Mark Adams had told reporters. "They can go ahead with them but they won't have any validity.

"We have to regain our confidence that the Indian Olympic Association is acting independently of government and that the government is not interfering. At the moment, the IOC is not satisfied that this is the case."

India's Olympic Association shrugged off its suspension from the IOC by pressing ahead Wednesday with a vote to install the organiser of the scandal-plagued 2010 Commonwealth Games as its new head.

The national association insisted it had no option but to hold the polls in which the outcome is a formality.

The IOC announced the open-ended suspension Tuesday after a meeting at its Swiss headquarters, saying the Indian federation had "failed to comply to the Olympic charter".

The "IOA is not entitled to hold any election until all pending issues are resolved," it added in a statement.

But the IOA's acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra said the election process would continue, with the results expected to be announced on Wednesday evening.

Malhotra said the issue would be under discussion at the IOA's annual general meeting, which is also taking place in New Delhi on Wednesday.

"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.

"We can't go against the law of the land."

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 association 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 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."

Earlier today: The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) has been banned and elections on Wednesday will be "null and void", the IOC said on Tuesday, claiming government interference in a vote that could result in a tainted official taking over as secretary-general.

"They are not entitled to have elections and if for some reason they go ahead this will not be recognised," said the IOC's Pere Miro, in charge of relations with national Olympic committees.

"This is because this is part of a full problem. The election process has been tarnished since the origin. Many different interferences, many governmental rules and their own bad interpretation of IOA statutes," Miro said.

Miro, who said Kuwait escaped a similar ban due to an amendment of its sports law, said the ban was triggered by both government interference and bad governance by the IOA.

"What happened in the past is null and if something happens now it is the same," Miro told reporters.

The ban means an effective end to funding from the IOC to the national Olympic committee (IOA), no Indian officials attending Olympic meetings and Indian athletes banned from competing at the Olympics under their country's flag.

India's lone individual Olympic gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra said the IOA deserved to be suspended.

"Bye Bye IOA, hope to see u again soon, hopefully cleaner!," Bindra tweeted.

Lalit Bhanot, who spent 11 months in custody last year following corruption charges that plagued the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi and who is out on bail, was confirmed for the post last week after the rival faction pulled out ahead of Wednesday's election.

Bindra's compatriot and London Olympics bronze medallist rifle shooter Gagan Narang termed the development "unfortunate".

"It's unfortunate but I am not too sure about the issue, haven't been following them of late," he said.

The IOC has been angered by government interference in the elections and had warned the IOA in a letter of a possible suspension.

"This is wrong and completely unilateral," Abhay Singh Chautala, who is expected to be elected as IOA President on Friday, told reporters.

"We'd go to the IOC again and explain them of the actual situation and the details of the election. This ban was completely thrust on us.

"It's a unilateral decision. The IOA acting president had written to the IOC but they didn't reply. I had also written a letter saying we are sending two members to explain the situation and requested for appointment. Again there was no answer to that."

The IOA has been directed by a Delhi court to hold the elections adhering to the government's sports code, while the IOC wants the governing body to abide by the Olympic charter.

The IOC blamed non-cooperation by the Indian government and the IOA for the current situation.

Acting IOA President VK Malhotra said his organisation was caught in the middle.

"We had gone to the prime minister and asked him not to pass that controversial bill. The bill was not passed but the code was imposed. That's how the problem started," he said.

"Now the IOC is complaining of government interference, while court and government want us to go by the code. We were caught in the crossfire. We will try and find some reconciliation so that our athletes don't suffer."

Asked whether members of the IOC's executive committee had confirmed the south Asian giant's suspension for flouting the Olympic charter, the source said by text message: "It's official."

The IOC Ethics Commission in October warned India against fielding either Bhanot or Kalmadi and has expressed concern over political interference.

Chautala, a politician in northern Haryana state, told AFP in New Delhi on Wednesday: "I have not heard anything officially but am told that India has been suspended by the IOC. If that is true, it is wrong and a one-sided decision.

"We will meet tomorrow (Wednesday) to decide our future course of action."

Chautala blamed his one-time rival for the post, Randhir Singh, for the suspension. Singh pulled out of the race to become IOA president last month.

"When he realised he did not have the majority to win the elections, Randhir used his contacts in the IOC to get at us," he said. "He is the one who has shamed Indian sport and should resign from the IOC."

Chautala added that the IOA had no choice but to follow the government's sports code.

"We had explained to the IOC that we were ordered by the Delhi High Court to follow the sports code," he said. "We could not go against a court order. But we did not get a reply from the IOC."

Former athlete Ashwini Nachappa said she was not surprised at the IOC's move.

"We all saw it coming," she said. "I hope it helps to clean up Indian sports administration. But will it?"- Ashwini Nanchappa

Woman boxer Mary Kom, a five-time world champion who won a bronze at the London Olympics, said she was "absolutely shocked" at India's suspension.

"I don't know who is responsible for this but I know the athletes who will suffer if the situation is not resolved quickly," she added. - Mary Kom

Beijing Games bronze medallist boxer Vijender Singh agreed with Narang but hoped for an early settlement of the issue.

"I don't know what has gone wrong. It is an unfortunate development. Elections were to be held under the Sports Code which is similar to the IOC Charter. So, I don't know why the IOC took this step.

"I hope the matter is resolved early so that there is no long-term implication on athletes."- Vijender Singh

India's next appearance at a major international event would have been the Asian Games in South Korea in 2014.

Press outrage

Newspapers meanwhile lined up to condemn the IOA for "disgracing India" in its clash with the world governing body which means Indian athletes will not be able to compete in the Olympics under the national flag and see funding frozen.

The Indian media said the suspension could be a positive move to clean up the tainted sports administration.
"Golden day for Indian sports," said 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".

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