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Wheels within wheels: Story behind India’s delayed return to Olympic fold

The IOC suspended the IOA in December 2012 for failing to comply with the Olympic charter.

New Delhi | Updated: January 12, 2014 12:39 pm
A plaque at the Indian Olympic Association Bhawan in New Delhi shows Abhay Singh Chautala as the president. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia) A plaque at the Indian Olympic Association Bhawan in New Delhi shows Abhay Singh Chautala as the president. (IE Photo: Ravi Kanojia)

There’s more to India’s long-winding return to the Olympic fold after it was ousted by the international body in December 2012, than meets the eye. Vinayak Padmadeo accesses correspondence between different actors involved in this drama, and reveals politicking, squabbles.

It’s been over a year since the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Not before February 9, when the Indian body is to hold fresh elections and amend its constitution, can the IOA return to the Olympic fold.

However, from documents accessed by The Sunday Express, it has emerged that several members involved in the movement to get India back in the Olympics were not on the same page, which was one of the major reasons the reconciliation process was delayed.

The suspension will end within days of IOA’s general body meeting on February 9, if it ratifies all the amendments, including the charged-framed clause, and elects a new body.

These changes could have been incorporated earlier if all concerned members were to sit down and find a deal but the suspension only set the stage for a turf war between members of the IOA, IOC’s representative in India and Clean Sports India, a body constituting Olympians like Ashwini Nachappa, which came into being to help end the Olympic ban.

A stash of emails have been put on record as a part of the minutes of the IOA meeting held in New Delhi on December 8, 2013.

It includes email correspondence between IOC’s India representative Randhir Singh and Clean Sports India convener BVP Rao, and the IOC officials. According to Hockey India general secretary Narinder Batra, who was given the responsibility by the federations to negotiate with the IOC after the suspension, the IOC’s Indian representative was doing his best to stall the reconciliation. Randhir Singh, IOC’s member in India, on the other hand, claims he was acting only as a representative of the international body and his intentions were to get a cleaner body, rid of charge-sheeted members, in place at the IOA.

The IOC suspended the IOA in December 2012 for failing to comply with the Olympic charter, just days ahead of an election that would have seen the scam-tainted duo of Abhay Singh Chautala and Lalit Bhanot being elected unopposed into top positions.

After the suspension, the IOA repeatedly tried to side-step the charge-framed clause, but the international body would have none of it. It was only when the IOC threatened to bar Indian athletes from contesting in the Rio Olympics that IOA finally decided to implement the required changes in its charter.

The Correspondence

On August 8, 2013, Rakesh Gupta of the Indian Triathlon Federation wrote to IOA to share sports memorabilia for the prospective Olympians Gallery at the IOA headquarters. Asking for every one’s involvement, he wrote: “…as directed by the president and the secretary general I am writing to you to kindly become part of this project..”
The same day this mail was marked to Christophe De Kepper, IOC’s director general (administration), by Randhir with the following remark: “So much for their regard for the IOC directive. These chaps have become very arrogant… proclaiming themselves as President… Secretary.”

Randhir was referring to Abhay Singh Chautala and Lalit Bhanot, who have charge-sheets against them but were president and general secretary of the IOA. .

On August 27, 2013, Rao wrote a letter to Christophe De Kepper about his travel plans to Buenos Aires that was to coincide with the September 4 Executive Body meeting. “…I will be in in Buenos Aires from 2nd onwards. I request to give me few minutes of time to brief you before the Executive Board on some crucial issues. I have some ideas how you (IOC) can go extra mile to achieve a lot in cleaning up Indian Olympic Association. I discussed this proposal with our friend Randhir Singh.” And when De Kepper refused, Rao in his reply on the same day added: “… one suggestion. Please do not permit elections to IOA on 29th September. We need to travel extra mile to clean up which can be done in couple of months.”

August 27, 2013: Legal expert Vidushpat Singhania wrote a mail — a short note on the meaning of ‘charge’, ‘charge-sheet’ and ‘framing of charges’ — to members of the committee that were to draft the national sports development bill, headed by Justice (Retd) Mukul Mudgal. Rao then forwarded it to Randhir, who in turn sent it across to De Kepper and several other members of the IOC.

A September 4 mail from Randhir to De Kepper: “Hi Christophe, reached London today. Will be with you early morning tomorrow 5th. Keep the pressure on the crooks…. don’t let them off.” Five minutes later he wrote again: “Don’t let them get away.. our last chance to clean sports in India. Minister, sportsman all on the same track. We also have public support.. lets go for it.”

The same day, September 4, Manisha Malhotra, who is also on the panel that gave the national sports development bill shape, forwarded a mail to Randhir about an online petition started by sailer Ajay Rau that meant for “a corruption-free and clean Olympic association.” Malhotra wrote: “Dear uncle, just a little update from the last mail. This petition now has been signed by over 10,000 athletes. We hope it will make a little difference. Am not sure the EC members have the knowledge of this even though we mailed the old letter to all the addresses you gave me. So if there is any way of letting them know it will be great. Hopefully the IOC will not be swayed from the truth.”

September 20: While replying to De Kepper’s mail where he wanted to confirm a teleconference between him IOC chief Thomas Bach and IOC director (Olympic solidarity) Pere Miro, Randhir wrote: “Of course….let me know the time. I will call. Regards Randhir…. By the way I have taken Chautala and party head on in Media.”

It is the Singhania mail sent to Justice Mudgal and which was forwarded to IOC (enunciating on “charge-sheeted”) that, according to Narinder Batra — who was given the responsibility by the federations to negotiate with the IOC after the suspension — that raises the biggest stink.

“I am surprised that the committee which has Justice Mudgal as the head… he orders all of a sudden for drafting the meaning of chargesheet and charge framed …. Within seven days of this mail we get a letter that we should include this charge-framed clause. Amendments were done before the 2012 elections as well, why didn’t the IOC think of this charge-framed clause then?” Batra said.

“We have no issues. Good governance, let it come, we are all for it. But then IOC also needs to act like IOC and not a forwarding agent of Randhir Singh and BVP Rao,” he added.

Randhir said he was only doing his job. “My job as an IOC member and as the OCA secretary general is to inform on what is happening in my country to my office. After all, the job of the IOC representative is to inform what is happening in India. So whatever mail I got from anybody was sent to them. Even today if I get an email I will send it to them.”
Rao too thought nothing of the allegation being levelled. “As far as the mail content is concerned there is nothing to hide. Clean Sports India was always fighting for reforms in IOA. So all those emails, whether to Randhir Singh or written directly to IOC or somebody else were aiming at one agenda that the general body of IOA amends the constitution according to the IOC’s directions.”

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