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Feb 24 2014 

Indian Flag Does Fly in Sochi Closing Ceremony

Update on: The "Invisible India" In Sochi Games....

As we watched the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics 2014 at Sochi, Indians across the world were relieved to see the India flag fly high over it's participants- Himanshu Thaku for alpine skiing, Nadeem Iqbal for cross country skiing and Shiva Keshavan for the luge.  It may be re-called that the Indian sportsmen had to make do with the white Olympic banner flying over their heads at the opening ceremony on account of  the ban on India's Olympic Association due to corruption charges against it's elected members.

According to NDTV, the ban on India's Olympic Association was lifted on February 11, a few days after the opening ceremony, following fresh elections, thereby allowing it to be represented at the games and bringing the total number of nations competing to 88.  As per IBTimes, as the tournament progressed, IOA held elections to choose a "clean" president as International Olympics Committee (IOC) had suggested. N. Ramachandran, the brother of BCCI's president N. Srinivasan, was elected to the post. "It was a bad feeling I think at the opening ceremony because I was under the IOC flag. After February 11, the IOC gave us our country back because of the fresh elections. I'm proud to put the flag up (in the athletes village). My parents, teacher and friends are very proud." NDTV also reported 20 year old, Thakur as saying. And so it seems that India became the first country to win readmission during an ongoing Games.

So even though India didn't end up winning a place at the Gold, Silver or the Bronze stands, at least the country's sportsmen ended the games with where they belong, underneath the tri color, having represented their nation, with pride.

And lets not forget, this winter games will be remembered for Shiv Keshavan's courageous recovery after he amazingly saved his luge crash during his luge event, so what if he finished 37th out of 39th? The country is proud of him and the others who rise above the rest, against all odds to participate on an international stage.

Feb 10 2014

The "Invisible India" In Sochi Games....

(by Sonal Kulshrestha)

 Last Friday, on Feb 7th, as we watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics 2014 at Sochi, we witnessed the 3 Indian sportsmen (Himanshu Thaku for alpine skiing, Nadeem Iqbal for cross country skiing and Shiva Keshavan for the luge) walking without the orange- white-green Indian flag hurling above them. Instead there was the generic white Olympic banner that symbolizes 'independent' participants that is basically meant for athletes from newly formed countries like South Sudan, as per IOC.

 Much to our chagrin, India, the country of over one billion people, was being represented, and yet was invisible. To add to the shame was the announcement that accompanied about there being some corruption charges against the Indian Olympics Committee.

Almost all leading newspapers and magazines carried the story. Live Science, in their article, 'Odd Olympics: 6 Unlikely Competitors at the Sochi Games', had this to say- "Despite being the second-most populous country in the world, India could arguably be considered an underdog at these games. Though India has sent athletes to the Winter Games since 1964, the country of 1.2 billion people has garnered just 26 medals, all at the summer Olympics. The athletes participating this year overcame several hurdles, starting with an almost complete lack of institutional support from the country. For instance, luge competitor Shiva Keshavan lacked a personal trainer and built a luge in his garage because the country didn't have one and didn't supply the means for him to buy one." The article goes on to say that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the body responsible for selecting Indian competitors, the Indian Olympic Association, for corruption charges — including appointing committee members who had pending criminal charges. The Indian organization didn't fix the problems in time for India's three athletes to walk in the opening ceremony or wear the country's insignia.

(Photo Credit: LA Times, Shiv Keshavan in 2010)


The LA Times so said- " In a dispute over corruption-tainted Indian athletic officials, the International Olympic Committee suspended India's membership, which means it cannot participate in the Games in Sochi, Russia."

The article best explained what exactly happened as- "

The dispute with the IOC dates to 2012, when the Indian Olympic Assn., the nongovernmental body that oversees participation in the Games, elected several controversial figures, including Lalit Bhanot, who had spent 10 months in jail on corruption charges related to his handling of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Another top Indian Olympic Assn. official, Abhay Singh Chautala, had been charged in an education scam unrelated to sports. After the IOC suspended India in December 2012, the Indian association agreed to remove the tainted officials and, a year later, amended its rules to bar anyone facing criminal charges from seeking election. But in apparent defiance of the IOC, the group scheduled an election for new officials Sunday, two days after the Sochi Games begin. The IOC said it would not allow India to participate before its Olympic body's election and that no Indian flags or symbols would be used at the Games." The article also mentions how the top ranks of India's sports federations include almost no former athletes and are instead filled with politicians or their relatives.

Shashank Bengali's article in LA Times also impressively covers Shiva Keshavan's story. According to it-

  • India doesn't have any ice track, but as a boy, Shiva Keshavan raced a crude wooden sled down the snowy mountain roads in the Himalayas in his native northern India.
  • He doesn't have a formal coach and designs his own sleds in a garage, with help from friends.
  • He helps finance his training and equipment with income from the family business: a tourism company in the scenic hill town of Manali, including an Italian restaurant called the Rose Garden that was inspired by his Italian-born mother.
  • He was discovered by an international scout in the mid-1990s.
  • He has represented his country at the last four Winter Olympics. He first qualified for Olympics in Nagano, Japan, in 1998. At 16,  he was the youngest to ever compete in luge and India's sole representative who borrowed the sled from the South Korean team. In 2006 in Turin, Italy, the International Luge Federation got him his sled. In 2010, in Vancouver, his sled was courtesy of a group of Indian lawyers. And finally, this time around, the Indian Government, finally woke up and financed his way to Sochi.
  • Keshavan is a two-time gold medalist in the Asia Cup luge competition.

So, knowing the story of Shiv Keshavan, his ability, his persistence in the face of lack of finances, training and even facilities, on the one hand and the Indian Government,  the corruption that they're forever involved in, their lack of support both in the form of finances and facilities, on the other hand, it's anybody's guess what we should be saying. So let's say it-

Dear Indian Politicians,

It's one thing to not provide the infrastructure to train and groom the masses to provide an opportunity to participate in international sports arena.

But it's entirely another matter to have self made, self motivated athletes who, all on their own merit and motivation, make it into a forum of Olympics caliber, and yet not have their government take them under their wings, give them that final push and the nudge that will boost their morale, let alone increase their chances of winning.

And then again, it's height of callousness on the government's part if it sits tight while these talented sportsmen take on the world as 'independent' participants, not having had the privilege of representing their country.

But the ultimate height of shamelessness is scaled when these very leaders are heard saying nonchalantly, that these men don’t stand a chance of winning any medals anyways.

Wake up and smell the coffee! The need of the hour is and has been, to shun corruption and do your share- focus ONLY on uplifting the nation and it's people. Create independent bodies, free of the current corruption infested system, to identify , recognize and groom the talent that's right under your nose and be the wind beneath their wings, for a change! Granted there are mouths to feed and clean water to be reached that's way higher up in priorities. But, at the very least, for those self-motivated, glaringly on your face talented athletes, provide the ways and the means for them to soar high. That in turn will motivate more and so the numbers will increase enough to validate a national sports program and facilities for sports other than Cricket. From there, who knows, where India can reach. Small steps, is all we ask- now, surely, that can't be too much?

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