By Sudipto Ganguly
JAKARTA (Reuters) - Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) Director General Husain Al-Musallam has told Reuters he hopes his native Kuwait will implement a roadmap proposed by the International Olympic Committee that will see it return to the Olympic fold ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Kuwait's national Olympic committee has been banned since 2015 after the government was accused of interference with a new sports law. As a result, Kuwaiti athletes had to compete under the Olympic flag at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and they have had no access to IOC funds.
Earlier this month, the IOC provisionally lifted the ban shortly before the start of the Asian Games "as a gesture of goodwill to recognise the progress accomplished", allowing the country to compete under its own flag in Jakarta.
Al-Musallam said in an interview on Wednesday that several other countries had faced the same problem, the difference was Kuwait has been grappling with the issue for the last three decades.
"This issue is not only in Kuwait but has happened in many other countries in the world. We have had the same issue before in India, Pakistan and Korea," he said. "All issues were solved after a year or two and things have moved forward.
"Kuwait is special because this issue is not for the first time but since 1986. The government changes law and then imposes on the sports movement.
"Changing a law is good, you can change the law as you want but to implement or enforce a wrong article of the law to replace the Olympic charter is against the rules."
Kuwait was also suspended in 2010 over a similar dispute but reinstated before the 2012 London Olympics. The country has had more than 15 national sports bodies suspended over the years, including its football federation, due to a controversial sports law.
Al-Musallam, a close ally of OCA President and FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, another Kuwaiti, said the country's government was focused on getting the ban lifted in time for the Tokyo Games.
"For me, as a Kuwaiti, I am very proud that the team participated under the flag at the Asian Games and the athletes performed well in short notice," the 58-year-old said.
"We need to work together in Kuwait, respect the minimum requirements and principles of the Olympic movement.
"I hope we will work together to hold elections according to the roadmap proposed by the IOC and this will be helpful for everybody."
Al-Musallam, who worked as an airline pilot for 36 years, said government interference remained a big problem for the Olympic movement in Asia.
"From time to time a new elected government immediately sees sport as a very attractive field and jumps on it. This will never end," he said.
The OCA has also had to deal with a diplomatic crisis in West Asia after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt closed land, air and sea links with Qatar in June last year, accusing it of funding terrorism, something Doha denies.
Al-Musallam was confident the Olympic movement would be strong enough to survive the crisis surrounding Qatar, which will host the World Cup in 2022.
"The (Asian) Games have run during World War II, the Korean war and all nations have participated," he said.
"The political problems during the India-Pakistan-Bangladesh war, the Afghanistan problems, Vietnam war, Iraq war - the Games have run. Despite all these challenges the Olympic movement in Asia is united and working well."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)