India's flag unfurled at Sochi Olympic village

AP News
Posted: Feb 16, 2014 5:39 AM
India's flag unfurled at Sochi Olympic village

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (AP) — India's flag has finally been hoisted at the Sochi Olympics, five days after the IOC lifted a 14-month ban and more than a week after the games began.

The ceremonial raising of the tricolor Sunday symbolically marked the end of the suspension, exactly a week after a new Indian Olympic Association board was elected to replace corruption-tainted officials.

"I am absolutely thrilled and delighted," new IOA president Narayna Ramachandran said. "It's a tremendous boost for Indian sports.

"The national sport bodies were suffering because you didn't get the grants from the IOC or the Indian government. To have the ban lifted in two days was truly amazing."

India has three athletes competing in Sochi. They carried the IOC flag during the opening ceremony on Feb. 7 and started the games as independent athletes. They will now be able to march behind their national flag when the Games are closing next Sunday.

"We are very excited," Indian luger Shiva Keshavan said. The five-time Olympian said that he and his teammates — cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal and Alpine skier Thakur Himanshu — had been hoping the issue was resolved before the Sochi Games began.

"Unfortunately that didn't happen," Keshavan said. "I have been at the Olympics before but it really didn't do justice to (my teammates) so I hope one of them get to carry the flag in the closing ceremony."

The ceremony on the central plaza in the mountain athletes' village was attended by about 100 people, mainly Olympic volunteers and media. The Indian team and officials were applauded when they entered the square, and responded with smiles and waves.

The village mayor, 2006 Olympic speed skate champion Svetlana Zhurova, said she hoped the athletes would now feel "at home" after the flag was raised just at 12 noon as the Indian national anthem was played.

Keshavan, who finished competing before the IOC suspension was lifted, said he expected the new leaders of his association to help winter sports progress in India.

"The symbolic change has happened, now we need to see the real change," Keshavan said. "Now we need to see some more facilities come to winter sports. They have the power to make a difference."

He said the ban and reinstatement of the IOA has raised more awareness for winter sports in India.

"This has brought a lot of attention ... that's what we needed," he said. "We have so many youngsters, their dreams and aspirations now rest on the shoulders of the new administration."

Ramachandran said all of the Indian athletes dreamed of competing for their nation.

"You can imagine the emotions, it's truly overwhelming," he said. "And I have to thank the IOC for that."

Ramachandran said the newly elected board has drawn a line under the past.

The IOC suspended India in December 2012 after electing members to the executive who had been convicted for corruption.

"I only look for the future because that's the best way to go forward and that's what I intend doing," Ramachandran said. "It's the athletes who come first, the administrations come last. For an Indian athlete, this could not have been better news."

Ramachandran arrived late Saturday i after it took him nearly a week a get his Olympic accreditation, visa and flights arranged.

"The IOC did tremendous work in getting my accreditations through," he said. "It was like clockwork and everything worked like magic."

Ramachandran, the World Squash Federation president, was elected unopposed to head the Indian Olympic body last Sunday, a move that paved the way for IOC reinstatement. But not even he expected the IOC to act so quickly.

"Just two days into the presidency and get you ban lifted," he added. "Every one of us though it would take some time. The (IOC) acted in such a fast manner, it's unbelievable."