NEW DELHI - India's top winter sports athlete hopes his country's Olympic suspension will be lifted in time for him to represent his nation at the Winter Games in Sochi.
"It will be a matter of pride for me to hold India's flag," luge competitor Shiva Kesavan told The Associated Press in an email interview on Wednesday. "It would be shameful if Indian athletes are denied this due to bad or unethical governance."
The Indian Olympic Association was suspended in December last year for electing tainted officials, notably secretary-general Lalit Bhanot, who spent over 10 months in jail in corruption cases related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The International Olympic Committee is helping the Indian body re-draft its constitution to bar corrupt officials before lifting the suspension.
If the suspension is not lifted before the Sochi Games, which run from Feb. 7-23, Kesavan and other Indian athletes will not be able represent India. They will be eligible to compete in Sochi, but only as independent athletes under the Olympic flag.
The IOA has announced Feb. 9 as a tentative date of elections but the Winter Games Federation of India has called for the polls to be held at least a week earlier so that Kesavan and other athletes can represent India in Sochi.
Kesavan, who goes into his fifth Winter Olympics, said the essence of the games is "to represent" one's country.
"It is a matter of pride and belonging. It is also embarrassing when a country like ours is suspended on moral and ethical grounds," said the 32-year-old Kesavan, who has been competing in the United States and Japan in recent weeks.
"It is the athletes who are the face of the country during sporting events, and it is we who answer the questions," said Kesavan, who hopes to win India's first medal at the Winter Olympics despite struggling with finances in the run-up to the games.
"I am aiming to put in all that I have, with nothing less than the gold medal in sight. However, realistically, given all the limitations I have faced, I hope I can achieve a personal best at the games, which will pave the way" for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Indian Olympic body has agreed to the IOC's demand of barring all officials who have been charged with any offence which could get them a prison sentence of two years or more. However, the Indian body has been asked to clarify a clause in which it gives suspended officials a chance to present their cases to the IOA's own ethics committee.
India had risked becoming the first country expelled from the Olympics in 40 years before being given provisional clearance for Sochi by the IOC earlier this month. The Indian body now needs to rectify the ethics clause in a general meeting before holding elections which will be recognized by the world body.