No Indian flag at the 2014 Winter Olympics: could Indian sport sink any lower?

Author : Ritabrata Banerjee
Flags stand in front of a stage ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Olympic Park, Sadly there isn't any Indian Flag

Flags stand in front of a stage ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Olympic Park. Sadly, the Indian flag is missing

Three Indians – Shiva Keshavan, Himanshu Thakur and Nadeem Iqbal – will enter the Olympic stadium on 7th February 2014 at Sochi to participate in the Winter Olympics. But unfortunately they won’t be seen waving the tri-colour Indian flag during the Games. In 2012, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) for violations of its charter, which included electing leaders with pending criminal charges.

The suspension of the IOA – what exactly happened?

The origin of this entire mess was the IOA’s decision to stage an election that was to be contested by just one official, who had been accused of corruption. The IOA was due to hold elections in which Lalit Bhanot, who had spent 11 months in custody on corruption charges linked to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, had been set to be appointed. Upon learning that, the IOC contended that the elections smacked of government interference, which was in violation of the Olympic charter.

The major bone of contention was that the IOA had followed the national sports code, rather than the rules set out in the Olympic Charter, while conducting its polls. The IOC, in a statement, revealed that they took the decision to suspend the IOA because of the latter’s “failure to comply with the Olympic Charter and its statures, failure to inform the IOC in a timely matter, and as a protective measure against government interference in the IOA’s election process.”

Until the suspension would be lifted, Indian athletes wouldn’t be able to participate in any Olympic events, with the IOA also losing its IOC funding.

Of course, even a grave matter such as a suspension didn’t deter the IOA officials from going on with the elections exactly as they had initially planned to. The act of defiance may have seemed like a strong statement of intent at that time, but did they give no consideration to the hapless Indian athletes who would be deprived of the chance to represent their country at Olympic events?

Better sense has prevailed now, with the IOA announcing that it would hold its elections this year on February 9th, following which the IOC decided that Indian athletes could participate in the Winter Olympics. But since the elections would be held after the February 7 start of the Games, the Indian participants would have to compete under the Olympic flag rather than the Indian one; the Indian flag or symbols will not be allowed at the venues or the opening ceremony.

So basically, a stubborn adherence by the IOA to stick to its predetermined schedule has made caused India’s flag to be banned from the Olympic Games in Sochi. It is a matter of just three days; if the IOA had held its elections on February 6 instead of February 9, the Indian flag would have been allowed to be displayed at the Games. If that sounds ridiculous to you, then join the club.

Sorry state of Indian sports

At the Winter Olympics, three of India’s competent athletes will be present to participate in their individual events. India’s most prominent athlete at the Winter Olympics would be Shiva Keshavan, a luge athlete.

Keshavan has no personal coach. His training is funded by mostly private donations, and he had built his luge sled at his own garage. Incredibly, India does not have any luge track, which forced the athlete to train on wheels. And after all that perseverance, Keshavan will not hear his country’s national anthem being played behind him before the start of his event at the Games.

It is sad to know that The Union Sports Ministry is yet to recognize the National Luge Federation as part of their organization.

Just because it is not recognized by the Government, the National Luge Federation lacks funding. It goes without saying that this is a major hindrance for many budding talents who choose to become luge athletes. There is absolutely no guarantee of livelihood in this sport.

India's Shiva Keshavan, who will compete under the Olympic flag at the Sochi Winter Olympics

India’s Shiva Keshavan, who will compete under the Olympic flag at the Sochi Winter Olympics

India not the first country to be banned, but the list is far from illustrious

Although it is a shame for us as Indians that our country was suspended by the highest body of sports in the world, we can console ourselves by going through the list of countries which have been barred in the past by the IOC.

In 1964, the IOC banned South Africa from Olympic competition because of the country’s policies regarding racial discrimination. Despite the South Africans claiming they would allow athletes of any race to join their Olympic team that year, the IOC demanded the South African government publicly renounce all racial discrimination in sport. The white majority government in South Africa refused and was banned from Olympic participation until 1992.

Rhodesia too was banned from the Olympics just four days before the 1972 Munich Games began because of racist policies in the nation. That nation, which collapsed in 1979, never competed in an Olympic Games.

In 2000, Afghanistan was banned from the Summer Games because of human-rights violations against women under the Taliban. Four years later they were allowed, upon the inclusion of female Olympians.

Germany was also banned from several Games for their involvement in World War I and World War II.

Being bracketed along with racist, fascist and cruel regimes from the past – not very nice company for India, is it?

A shameful episode in Indian sports history

That a country with more than 1 billion people cannot fetch enough medals at the Olympic Games is a sobering fact. In 2012, India bagged 6 medals, the country’s highest ever medals tally! But the fact that a country of 1 billion people can’t even send its athletes to compete under its flag is surely something that is much worse – it’s a matter of national shame, really.

We were bestowed the right to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010. That could have been a golden opportunity for India to improve its infrastructure and pave a gateway to success in sport. But instead, the country indulged in all kinds of unholy scams; the chairman of the IOA himself was involved in a controversy that destroyed India’s global image.

And today, we have reached a point where India’s flag is not being allowed to be unfurled at the highest stage of world sport. Are we regressing instead of progressing?