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India Defies Olympic Committee, Elects Graft-Tainted Official

Lalit Bhanot, who was recently elected as the secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), casts his ballot for the election of Vice President, Joint Secretary and Executive Council members of IOA in New Delhi, India, December 5, 2012.
India's Olympic Association has elected a new leader whose reputation has been tainted by allegations of corruption. The appointment was made despite the sports body's suspension by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which disallowed the vote. India's suspension from the Olympics has prompted widespread calls for cleaning up sports governance in the country.

The IOC suspended India after it warned the Indian Olympic Association against allowing candidates facing corruption charges to contest elections.

But the defiant Indian sporting body pressed ahead with an election to choose Lalit Bhanot as secretary general. Bhanot faces graft charges in connection with the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and has spent 11 months in jail. He was unopposed.

Indian officials say they have done nothing wrong because they have followed orders of an Indian court in conducting the controversial poll under a government sports code.

However, the IOC declared the election void, saying the Indian sporting body must show that it is independent of the government. It cited bad governance and meddling by the Indian government as reasons for the suspension.

In India, the suspension prompted widespread calls to reform the Indian Olympic Association and other sporting federations.

V. Srivatsa, a sports commentator in New Delhi, says most sporting bodies are headed by powerful politicians and bureaucrats who care little about nurturing sports. He says allegations of graft are common.

“The entire edifice is controlled by certain vested interests. They have a stranglehold. That is the tragedy of both Indian politics and Indian sports," Srivatsa explains. "Like any other body in the country, sporting bodies need to be cleansed. It’s a leaking roof. You need to plug it.”

Bad governance of sports is widely blamed for India’s dismal performance in international sports - the six medals it picked up in the London Olympics were its best haul ever. It has won only one gold medal ever at the Olympics - in Beijing.

Sports commentators often compare India to China and say India needs to do much more to develop sports.

India’s hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games also brought humiliation to the country. Costs shot up from an estimated $75 million to $8 billion, and there were widespread allegations of corruption. Shoddy infrastructure prompted threats by several countries to pull out.

India, with a rising global profile, has dreams of hosting the Olympics one day.

However, now, under the terms of the suspension, India will not be allowed to compete in any event organized by the International Olympics Committee.

But, sports officials associated with the IOC have shrugged off the suspension and say they will try to get it revoked as soon as possible.