By Karolos Grohmann
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - India has returned to the Olympic fold after the IOC lifted a ban on the country's Olympic association on Tuesday, and its athletes will now be able to march behind the Indian flag at the closing ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games.
The country's athletes have been competing in Russia under the Olympic flag due to the suspension, imposed after it held a 2012 Indian Olympic Association (IOA) election in which a corruption-tainted official was voted in as secretary general.
"It is the first time in Olympic history that a suspension of a National Olympic Committee has been lifted during the Games," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told reporters.
He said the IOC had discussed the matter early on Tuesday and ruled that elections held on Sunday had fulfilled all criteria for the country's immediate reinstatement.
"We observed the general assembly (on Sunday). We are happy with the changes," Adams said, adding the IOC's prerequisite to ban any tainted officials from elections had been fully met.
On Sunday, the IOA voted in a new set of officials with World Squash Federation chief N. Ramachandran elected president, paving the way for the Olympic reinstatement of the world's second most populous nation.
All India Tennis Association chief Anil Khanna became treasurer in polls which marked the exit of corruption-tainted Abhay Singh Chautala and Lalit Bhanot from the IOA.
"It's great news for the Indian athletes," Indian IOC member Randhir Singh told Reuters.
"IOA has finally realized that the Olympic Charter is supreme and you have to fall in line and follow the principles of ethics and good governance.
"Tainted officials have no place in IOA."
The Indian athletes in Sochi - a luger and two skiers - entered the Sochi Games under the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony on February 7, and have competed as Independent Olympic Participants.
The IOC's decision means they can now compete for India and will walk behind their national flag at the closing ceremony on February 23.
To symbolically mark the lifting of the suspension and, in recognition of the athletes competing in Sochi, the Indian flag will be raised in the Olympic village, Adams said.
"I'm happy with the new IOA team. (In N. Ramachandran and Anil Khanna) you have two world class administrators," Singh added.
Newly elected IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta told Reuters the news was a great start for the new team.
"I got a call from the IOC this morning confirming the ban has been lifted and I'm now waiting for a written communication," Mehta said.
"It's a great start for the new team at IOA. This is all the more significant as this year we have Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.
"Indian athletes will be competing once again under the Indian flag. It's a great relief for us," he added.
(Additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Ossian Shine)