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Olympic body risks suspension in poll standoff

International authority says officials must be elected under its charter. But India's move away fractures 'principle of autonomy'.

NEW DELHI // India's national Olympic authority risks being suspended by the International Olympic Committee if it elects its officials under the Indian government's sports code, instead of the IOC's charter.

The IOC, which begins a two-day meeting in Lausanne today, has repeatedly sent written warnings to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to resolve the issues surrounding its elections.

"In view of the above, it is hereby confirmed that a proposal forsuspension of the IOA will be presented to the IOC executive board at its next meeting," a letter dated November 23, from the IOC chief Jacques Rogge, said.

The Indian body has been mired in wrangling over the elections to replace tainted official, Suresh Kalmadi, who was jailed for nine months on corruption charges related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi before being granted bail.

Mr Kalmadi, who headed the IOA for 16 years, decided not to seek re-election in a poll set for tomorrow, but his close aide Lalit Bhanot is running for secretary-general, even though he was also jailed last year for corruption related to the Commonwealth Games. He is also now out on bail.

The IOC had been urging the IOA to adhere to their own constitution and the Olympic Charter and not follow a contentious government sports code.

But in November, the Delhi high court instructed the IOA to conduct its elections under the clauses of the government's sports code. The IOC pointed out in one of its letters that this would fracture "the fundamental principle of autonomy" that is supposed to govern the IOA.

Although V K Malhotra, the IOA's acting head, wrote to Mr Rogge that the IOA has challenged the Delhi high court's decision, its petition will be heard only on December 17. A request by Mr Malhotra to send a delegation to the Lausanne meeting to resolve the standoff also has been turned down.Abhay Singh Chautala, who heads India's boxing federation and who will be elected unopposed as the president of the IOA, argued that Mr Bhanot was perfectly eligible to run. "Until the court decides he is guilty there is no restriction on him fighting elections," said Mr Chautala.

Abhijeet Kulkarni, who heads operations at the Lakshya Institute, an NGO that develops sports in grassroots India, said that the choice of the tainted Mr Bhanot had little to do with the IOC's ultimatum. He said the problem arose from rival factions within the IOA, one of which was closer to the IOC and was using the international body to have the upcoming elections declared invalid.

The IOC's demand that the IOA not hold itself to the government's sports code was, Mr Kulkarni said, inconsistent with its policies elsewhere. "Even in the United States and France, the governments have set down certain norms for sporting bodies, and the IOC allows that," Mr Kulkarni said. "It's not like the Indian government is dictating who should be elected or who should run the IOA."

Since the IOA received nearly all of its funding from the government, "it shouldn't be surprising that it has to be accountable to the government in some way", he said.

But Randhir Singh, the secretary general of the IOA, pointed out that no organisation could follow two charters simultaneously.

"The IOA has thus far been using the Olympic charter for autonomy," said Mr Singh, who will not be standing for re-election. "You can't go by one set of rules at one point and another set of rules at another point."

The Olympic charter and the government's sports code fundamentally differed in only one area, Mr Singh said, how many terms an elected official can serve, and a maximum age limit imposed upon candidates standing for these elections.

"I had stated that the IOA would have been best served by cancelling the elections or postponing them for the moment," Mr Singh said. "But now it's too late. Going into the board meeting, the IOC will obviously consider its directives supreme."

Suspension by the IOC would mean a halt to IOC funding and a ban on Indian officials from attending Olympic meetings and events. India's athletes would also be barred from competing in the Olympics under their national flag, although the IOC could allow them to take partunder the Olympic flag.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by the Associated Press

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