The International Olympic Committee suspending the Indian Olympic Association does come as an embarrassment for India, especially considering its successful showing at the London Olympics, but the truth of the matter is that the IOA is, as the phrase goes, stuck between a rock and a hard place. The reason behind the ban is that the IOA is choosing to follow the government-mandated Sports Code in the implementation of its elections, something the IOC feels reduces the autonomy of India’s Olympic body. According to IOA president Abhay Singh Chautala, the IOA has been under considerable pressure from the sports ministry as well as the Delhi High Court to conduct its elections in accordance with the Sports Code, even though the Code itself had been rejected by the Cabinet. The IOC, on its part, feels there is too much governmental interference in the election process of the IOA. What, then, is the IOA to do?
Some of the fault does lie with the international body. Its other main opposition to the adoption of the Sports Code rules is that it allows tainted people like Lalit Bhanot, appointed as secretary general of IOA while facing graft charges relating to the Commonwealth Games, to come to power. While this is an important issue, it should ideally be dealt with separately from the adoption of the Sports Code. In an ideal scenario, people facing criminal charges shouldn’t be allowed to stand for any governmental position, but that’s a separate discussion. The Sports Code does have some rules that need to be implemented—such as the capping of the number of tenures heads of sports bodies can have, stipulating their retirement ages, etc. These are to keep sports bodies from becoming the private fiefdoms of a few. Keeping tainted people out of the leadership of the IOA should not come at the expense of rules that can genuinely improve sports in India; it should come along with them. And, for its part, the IOA should make sure it maintains international standards in its election process—mainly, keeping tainted officials out. In all of this, it’s India’s athletes who stand to lose.