Indian athletes to compete without a flag at Winter Olympics, disgraced national body says they won't win anyways

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For the first time since 1964,
India's contingent will participate as independents after the national Olympic body was suspended for corruption

India's only luge athlete Shiva Keshavan

On February 7, India's three winter athletes will be easy to spot at the packed opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics at Sochi in Russia - except, for the first time in India's history, the country's flag won't be fluttering above the sportspersons.

Shiva Keshavan (luge), Himanshu Thakur (slalom skiing) and Nadeem Iqbal (cross country skiing) will not be competing under the Indian flag at the 2014 Winter Olympics and are taking part as independent sportspersons after the the Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) shameful de-recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), after the arrest of some top ranking Indian officials on charges of corruption two years ago.

Since then, barring the Indian sports ministry's limited assistance, the three athletes have been on their own to prepare for one of the biggest sporting competitions -- where India is yet to win a single medal. Silently, these sportspersons have also been fuming at the IOA for its slow response to the IOC  on the corruption scandal in December 2012 that stripped India of it's valuable membership with the parent Olympic body.

Speaking to The Outdoor Journal, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, acting president of the IOA admitted that this would be the first time the Indian contingent would participate in the Olympics without the national flag but also added that the sportspersons were not expected to win medals.

“Yes it is sad that this is the first time ever that the Indian contingent will not be carrying the national flag during the Winter Olympics. However, the Indian Winter Olympic athletes don’t stand a chance of winning any medals either,” he said nonchalantly. 

The IOC gave India a deadline of February 7 to vote in new, untainted leadership, but India’s Olympic Association scheduled a vote on February 9, two days after the opening ceremony. As a result, India’s athletes will have to parade as “independents” under a generic Olympic flag rather than the national tricolour flag. India joins South Sudan and the Antilles as countries whose athletes have had to compete independently in the past.

When asked why the IOA did not take more urgent action in holding elections in response to the IOC's queries, Malhotra said, “Well, we missed that date and now there seems to be no time to invite all the associations and come to a concensus about several pending issues.”

Image © Nalin Agarwal

India’s only luge athlete Shiva Keshavan, an Asia Cup gold medallist who's preparing for his fifth Winter Olympics, was appalled at the reaction of the Indian official. Over a Skype chat with The Outdoor Journal before his practice session in Germany, the 32-year-old said on Monday, "It is very humiliating. First, we will be the only ones to stand there without a national flag and now the official says we don't stand a chance to win a medal. It shows how much they care about the sport or the athlete."   

Keshavan, who is from the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, is currently ranked 33rd in the Olympic rankings. He said he had not received any money from the IOA in his 17-year career as a sportsman and some officials of the Indian organization did not even know about Winter Olympics. "Initially, I had to run around proving that the winter games used to take place and that I was a luge athlete," Keshavan, who came 27th in the Luge World Cup in Austria in November 2013, said. 

A silver medallist at the 2013 Luge Asia Cup, the Indian athlete added that since the IOA's funds are frozen pending the corruption investigation, the IOC would have to bear the expenses of Indian athletes' travel, stay and daily allowance throughout the competition.

2008 Olympic gold medalist for India Abhinav Bindra too has publicly expressed dissatisfaction over the state of affairs at the IOA, saying, “It’s been a year since the suspension on the IOA. This has brought embarrassment to our country world wide. I do hope good sense prevails and the IOA takes the right decisions to accept basic principles of good governance and takes meaningful steps in national interest to bring India back to the Olympic fold.”

Keshavan has not let the Indian Olympic Association's disdainful approach towards sport hamper his zest for the sport. In the run up to the Olympics, his well-wishers organised fund raisers and his PR team has ensured that a Google search yields a racy video of a fully-suited Keshavan speeding down the narrow mountain road in Manali, in North India's Himalayas. 

Asked about his chances of a medal, Keshavan said, "That would be my aim, but I don't think I will even stay back for the closing ceremony." 

"What's the point of attending one when you can't hold your country's flag", said Keshavan.

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New Delhi, India
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