New Delhi: Ousted from the Olympic movement due to tainted officials and government interference more than a year ago, India's exile came to an end on Tuesday after the International Olympics Committee (IOC) welcomed the country back into the fold within days of fresh elections in the scam-riddled IOA.
"The IOC Executive Board (EB) reinstated the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of India, the Indian Olympic Association, during an ad-hoc meeting in Sochi on Tuesday," the IOC said in a statement.
"The EB took this decision following a report about the IOA's General Assembly and elections for a new Board, which were successfully held on 9 February 2014 and observed by an IOC delegation headed by IOC member Robin Mitchell," it added.
The IOC lifted the 14-month old ban after the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) barred charge-framed officials from its fresh election in which World Squash Federation chief and younger brother of BCCI boss N Srinivasan, N Ramachandran, was elected as the president.
The decision comes after the IOC's three observers for the elections left Indian shores "satisfied with the IOA elections promising to submit a "favourable report to the IOC president".
"The IOC observers told the EB members that the elections were held in full respect of the recently passed NOC constitution, which complies with all IOC requirements, including the clause that no person convicted or charge-framed can run for a position within the organisation," the IOC stated.
As a result of the IOC's decisions, the Indian athletes will now be able to compete under the national flag at international events.
They had been competing as independent athletes ever since the IOA was slapped with a suspension for failing to comply with the Olympic Charter and its statutes, relating specifically to good governance.
The most immediate effect of this would be seen at the ongoing Winter Olympics in Sochi, where the Indians would now be allowed to carry the tri-colour during the closing ceremony after parading through the opening ceremony under an IOC flag.
"It is the first time in Olympic history that a suspension of an NOC has been lifted during an Olympic Games, and the decision will have an immediate impact. Indian athletes entered the Sochi Games under the Olympic flag during the Opening Ceremony on 7 February 2014, and have competed as Independent Olympic Participants," the IOC said.
"The EB decision means they can now compete for the National Olympic Committee of India and will walk behind their national flag at the Closing Ceremony on 23 February. To symbolically mark the lifting of the suspension and in recognition of the three Indian athletes competing in Sochi, the Indian flag will be raised in the Olympic Village," it added.
At the elections held on Sunday, All India Tennis Association (AITA) chief Anil Khanna was elected Treasurer which marked the exit of corruption-tainted Abhay Singh Chautala and Lalit Bhanot from the IOA.
Chautala and Bhanot had been adamantly trying to fight the elections despite teh IOC's strong objections but the duo ultimately bowed under pressure when the world body threatened to permanently bar India from the Olympic movement.
It all started 14 months ago when on December 4, 2012, the IOC suspended the IOA for adhering to the government's Sports Code and for allowing tainted persons to take part in the election process.
In an act of defiance, IOA went ahead with the polls next day. The world body hit back by refusing to recognise Chautala and his team of office-bearers.
The IOC later proposed a meeting with the IOA and government representatives but maintained that the Indian body must hold its elections solely under Olympic Charter to return to the Olympic fold.
After three postponements and controversy over the participation of two members representing the suspended IOA, the meeting took place on May 15 last at Lausanne, Switzerland with Sports Minister Jitendra Singh and Beijing Olympics gold winner shooter Abhinav Bindra attending it.
The IOC issued the roadmap for India's return to the Olympic fold, asking IOA to amend its constitution before July 15 and elect new office bearers by September 1 last, both under the supervision of the world body. On August 15 last year, IOC stated that tainted persons will no longer be eligible to contest IOA elections.
But, a defiant IOA refused to implement the provision, saying that it had to follow the law of the land. The IOA even proposed to dilute the contentious clause, saying the chargesheet clause must apply only to convicted persons.
But the IOC shot down any compromise formula and asked the IOA to sack "charge-framed" officials through constitutional amendments by October 31 and conduct fresh elections by December 15 last.
The IOC later agreed to IOA's proposal to hold elections after IOA agreed to bar charge-framed persons from contesting the polls.