Athletes back to India from indy in Sochi Games

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Associated Press

Posted on February 11, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 11 at 9:36 AM

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Shiva Keshavan and two other athletes are going from indy to India at the Sochi Games.

They entered the Winter Olympics without acknowledgement of their home nation, but will leave with its flag flying in the athletes' village and hopes for better sports governance at home.

"You have a lot more behind you when you go with your country's flag," Keshavan told The Associated Press.

The IOC executive board reinstated the Indian Olympic body Tuesday after it held a weekend ballot that complied with ethics rules barring corruption-tainted officials from running for election. That cleared the way for Keshavan and two more Indian athletes to compete under their national flag for the rest of the Sochi Games.

During the opening ceremony last week, they entered Fisht Stadium as "independent Olympic participants," after talking in the entrance tunnel about the embarrassing situation for the world's second most populous nation, Keshavan said.

"That enthusiasm wasn't there that I generally feel at the opening ceremony," said the 32-year-old, who has competed in every Winter Olympics since 1998. Keshavan finished 37th Sunday in the singles luge, with the highlight of his performance an amazing, bizarre recovery from a training fall that went viral on social networks and news websites.

India was suspended in December 2012 for electing scandal-tainted Abhay Chautala as president and Lalit Bhanot as secretary-general. Bhanot spent 10 months in jail on corruption charges stemming from the organization of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, while Chautala is charged in a recruitment scam not related to sport. Both men deny any wrongdoing.

Keshavan, who pledged to return to the luge track at the next Winter Olympics, said he thinks his fellow athletes will be happy, though it's up to them to help make sure the changes stick.

"We have to be vigilant to see that there's actually going to be some change," Keshavan said. "I think all the athletes want to see change and want to see good governance."

The lifting of the suspension takes immediate effect, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, meaning cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal and slalom skier Hamanshu Thakur can now represent India in competition.

It is the first time in history that a suspension of a national Olympic body has been lifted during the games, the IOC said.

"When the Indian flag doesn't fly, people know that it's because of corruption and it's not a nice image for the country," Keshavan said. "So although there are real problems, still, symbolism is really important at the Olympic Games."

Adams said the IOC was satisfied with the changes after the Indian Olympic Association held elections on Sunday according to the new constitution and installed world squash chief Narayna Ramachandran as president. Chautala and Bhanot were ineligible to stand.

Organizers planned a special ceremony at the Olympic Village to raise the Indian flag.

IOC member Randhir Singh, a former secretary-general of the Indian Olympic body, told the AP from New Delhi that the reinstatement to the Olympics is "great news for Indian sport."

"It's time everyone understands that the Olympic charter is supreme," Singh told the AP in a telephone interview. "It is important that sport is run well and tainted officials are kept out in a country of 1.2 billion in which 40 per cent is youth."

Ramachandran heads the new Indian committee, with Rajeev Mehta becoming secretary general and Anil Khanna elected as treasurer.

Ramachandran, who served as treasurer of the IOA from 2008-12, is the younger brother of Narainswamy Srinivasan, who is the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India and is set to become chairman of the International Cricket Council.

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AP Sports Writers Stephen Wilson in Sochi and C. Rajshekhar Rao in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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