By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI, March 8 (Reuters) - India has welcomed the IOC's invitation to attend a meeting at its headquarters in Switzerland and sees it as a positive step towards its return to the Olympic fold, a top government official told Reuters on Friday.
The IOC banned the country after refusing to recognise the results of Indian Olympic Association (IOA) elections held on Dec. 5, which led to a tainted official being named as its new secretary general, because of government interference.
P.K. Deb, the secretary of India's sports ministry, was optimistic that the request for talks with the sports minister might lead to a quick end to the impasse.
"It's definitely a very positive development. We believe it's not going to be just one single meeting but the first in a series of meetings with the IOC," he told Reuters by telephone.
"I am not sure if the minister will be able to make it since the parliament is in session but I will be definitely going to Lausanne to meet the IOC."
The IOC encourages a free hand in the running of National Olympic Committees and has often banned countries from the movement due to government interference.
An Olympic ban means an effective end to funding from the IOC to the NOC. No officials from that association can attend meetings and athletes of a banned nation cannot compete at the Games under their country's flag.
Last December's election led to Lalit Bhanot, who spent 11 months in custody last year on corruption charges and is on bail pending further investigations, winning a senior IOA post despite the IOC deeming the elections "null and void".
In a letter seen by Reuters sent to the IOA last week, the IOC requested a joint meeting with the Indian sports minister to discuss a roadmap for the country to return to the Olympic fold.
"We hereby request that you agree with the sports minister on a suitable date to come to Lausanne, which should be no later than 31 March 2013, and that you submit a concrete proposal to us by the end of next week," it read.
"As soon as we agree on a date, we will of course extend an official invitation to the sports minister.
"It is indeed the intention of the IOC and OCA to resolve all pending issues as soon as possible, together with the sports minister and the suspended IOA." (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Nick Mulvenney)