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Five-time Olympian forced to withdraw from 2016 Luge World Championships

489   //    22 Jan 2016, 12:10 IST
Talented, but no backing: Keshavan has not received the assistance he needs to fund his career

Luger Shiva Keshavan has been forced to withdraw from the 2016 Luge World Championships, to be held in Koniggsegg, Germany from the 30th of January due to government apathy and an abject lack of funds. He is also now left without a coach.

Keshavan represented India at the Winter Olympics on five different occasions, and was the first ever Indian to qualify for the Winter Olympics.

In 2014, participating at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Keshavan was forced to take part as an independent athlete after the Indian Olympic Association was suspended temporarily the previous year.

A luge prodigy, Keshavan won the Junior National Ski Championships at only 14 years old. He’s also highly decorated; after two bronze medals at the 2005 and 2008 Asia Cup, Keshavan fought stronger than ever. Those efforts paid off – he won silver the following year, in 2009, and then in 2011 finally won top prize. He would go on to repeat that feat the following year.

The 2016 FIL World Luge Championships are to be held in Koniggsee, Germany, from the 30th of January, and was being coached by American Luge World Cup winning-athlete Duncan Kennedy, with whom he began a professional relationship in December 2014 with the aim of training for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Keshavan has now not only been forced to withdraw from the tournament but also let go of Kennedy’s services following a serious shortage of funds, with the Government of India reneging on the money it had promised India’s winter Olympic star.

As a result of the lack of funds and the mismanagement he has had to face, Keshavan will no longer participate; not only is he unable to fund his training and coach, but cannot afford the expenses of travel, accommodation and training abroad. The Manali native had been allocated 10 lakh by the Government of India, an expense they said should go towards a coach, with no other payments made towards any of his other expenses.

Kennedy, who has himself won 21 World Luge Championships, spoke out in support of his athlete. He told Sportstar that he had taken this decision with sadness and regret, and that he felt Keshavan’s potential was being wasted as a result of mismanagement.

““I am amazed and surprised at how a country like India cannot come up with money to pay the expenses of a five-time Olympian. Shiva is such a great ambassador for India. His dedication to his country and his sport, his international performance and his conduct have brought India much glory and admiration wherever he has taken the Indian Flag. I already knew some of the difficulties Indian athletes face due to funding, but no professional coach can work without being paid,” he said.

Keshavan supported his onetime coach, saying “He is willing to give his expertise for our country, but as a professional he cannot work without being paid.”

Late last year, the Indian Sports Ministry said they would pay Kennedy’s salary themselves, but only mustered a third of the required amount.

In fact, Keshavan has received more support from the International Luge Federation than he has at home. Officials have contacted the Sports Ministry themselves, looking to devise a plan for the player to be able to participate.

But with the tournament less than 10 days away and training already underway, things look grim for Keshavan’s participation.

Attempted to contact GoI to no avail

The athlete said he had attempted on several occasions to contact the government, who he says did not respond to his pleas.

“I have approached the Honourable Sports Minister to consider the 20 years of service I have given for my country and my sport. Since there is no recognised Federation, it is up to the Minister’s discretion to make a special case and sanction funds through NSDF (National Sports Development Fund). I am also approaching corporates for support through sponsorships or CSR initiatives”, he told Sportstar.

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