India has elected Lalit Bhanot — an official facing corruption charges — as head of its Olympics association in defiance of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
However, Bhanot's unanimous election is conditional on him explaining to the IOC his legal position as he faces corruption charges in connection with the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the IANS news agency reported.
Bhanot, a former political aide to powerful ex-lawmaker Suresh Kalmadi — the railway minister who headed the Commonwealth Games and is also facing corruption charges — has just spent 11 months in jail awaiting trial.
He was accused of favoring a Swiss firm in a Commonwealth Games timing contract, leading to a taxpayer loss of over $18 million, the LA Times reported.
He has been out on bail since January, but his election has sparked outrage in a sports-mad country where — according to the Times — aging bureaucrats rather than sports professionals call the shots in sporting associations.
“This is one of the worst moments in Indian sports, but it’s a fair decision that India brought on itself,” sports historian Boria Majumdar told the Times.
The IOC, meantime, had suspended India’s membership a day earlier over the controversy.
But Bhanot said that he would quit as IOA secretary general if proven guilty:
"I have not been proven guilty. I will quit if I am proven guilty by the law of the land."
India Today cited Abhay Singh Chautala, who took over as IOA president, as defending the decision to go ahead with the controversial elections IOA elections on the basis they were conducted by an Election Commission made up of retired High Court Justices.
"We have completed a free and fair election under three eminent retired High Court Justices. I want to re-iterate that we have not done anything wrong by going ahead with the polls. We have to obey the law of the land. It was an unanimous decision of the House that we have done anything wrong."
He added that the IOA would be able to convince the IOC to reconsider the suspension.