New Delhi (AFP) - The International Olympic Committee Tuesday reversed a 14-month ban against India imposed over corruption concerns, ending an embarrassing debacle that allows its athletes to compete under their national flag in Sochi.
The IOC said it was the first time that the suspension of a national association had been lifted during an Olympic Games and "the decision will have an immediate impact".
The three athletes from India, which has never won a Winter Olympic medal, have been competing in Sochi under the IOC flag as a result of the country's suspension.
The IOC suspended India in December 2012 and demanded that New Delhi remove corruption-tainted officials from its national association and elect new leaders -- which was finally achieved at the weekend.
"The ban has been lifted. The decision was taken at an (IOC) executive board meeting early this morning," Rajeev Mehta, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) secretary general, told AFP.
An IOC spokesman said Indian athletes could now compete under their flag in Sochi and would walk behind the national tricolour at the closing ceremony on February 23.
"To symbolically mark the lifting of the suspension... the Indian flag will be raised in the Olympic Village," the IOC added in a press statement, with this ceremony slated for later this week.
In December, the IOA finally agreed to keep tainted officials out of fresh leadership elections, but it refused to advance the vote before the start of the Sochi Games, leading to a flurry of criticism.
Under pressure, elections were held on Sunday -- two days after the opening ceremony in Sochi -- and World Squash Federation chief N. Ramachandran took over as president.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said that "we are happy that everything has come right and is as it should be".
He added: "The last change that was made was that of making sure that officials who have criminal records or are under investigation should not be allowed to stand."
The suspension meant the IOA was also frozen out of the Olympics movement and did not receive any financial support.
Indian luge athlete Shiva Keshavan called the suspension "sad and embarrassing" before he left for the Russian resort.
"I feel sorry for Indians around the world who will be reminded that the scourge of corruption has stood in the way of hoisting our flag," he told reporters in India.
Randhir Singh, IOC member from India, told reporters in Delhi that the reinstatement of India was "very, very good news".
"IOA has finally realised that the Olympic Charter is supreme. It shows that you have to fall in line and follow the principles of ethics and good governance," he said.
India's sports minister Jitendra Singh said his government was working closely with the IOC on drafting new legislation that seeks to clean up all sports in the country.
"They (IOC) have assured us that they will help us curb the ills in our sports," Singh told a news conference.
"The government of India is committed to bring transparency and good governance into sports. The IOC and the Indian government are on the same page," Singh said.
India's Olympics troubles started after corruption-tainted official Lalit Bhanot was elected secretary general of the IOA in December 2012.
Bhanot and his boss Suresh Kalmadi were charged with corruption and face a trial over alleged graft in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. They both deny any wrongdoing.
The Delhi Games were intended to showcase India on the global stage, but widespread corruption allegations instead highlighted many of the problems that blight the country.
The Games also led to criticism of the stranglehold of politicians over Indian sports associations.
India's two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar said the news of lifting of the ban had come as a "big relief" to the country's athletes.
"Hopefully, the bad times are over. Let us now all focus on the positives and look at winning more and more medals for India in the coming days," Kumar told India's CNN-IBN news network.