After Shiva Keshavan’s much-celebrated last race at the Winter Games, Indians have but one more athlete to turn to, in PyeongChang 2018 – cross-country skier Jagdish Singh.
The 26-year-old, who is employed by the Indian Army has an amazing back-story, as he got only one shot to qualify for the Olympics, which he grabbed with both arms.
However, it was back home, where he faced the biggest problems with regards to his PeyongChang sojourn. The Winter Games Federation of India had allegedly named two of its officials – president Colonel (Retd) Jodh Singh Dhillon and general secretary Roshan Lal Thakur – instead of naming a coach for the athlete.
After much deliberation, 2014 Winter Olympian Nadeem Iqbal was named as Jagdish’s coach for the contingent.
“This is a family federation. They harass the athletes a lot. They did not say anything to Jagdish,” said former Nadeem Iqbal.
When asked about the incident though, Roshan Lal Thakur said that the WGFI had asked the Army to sent its suggestions for Jagdish’s coaches, but only his superior’s name was sent.
“I had clearly stated to them in my email, to name Jagdish’s coach,” said Roshan Lal. “They wanted to send his commandant, a Major General.
“I’ve never played or coached cross-country. Why would I go as his coach? There’s no compulsion for me to go there. I’ve already attended two-three Olympics,” he further said.
However, Nadeem believes that the whole issue of Jagdish’s commandant in the Army accompanying him to the Olympics is a ruse, used to divert everyone’s attention to the main problem.
“We have been recommending our coaches’ names since December, but they spread a rumour that the Army wanted to send one of our Major-Generals as a coach,” says Nadeem.
Top skiers being phased out?
India’s contingent to the Winter Games have never quite been big, but the country’s winter sports fraternity hit a new low this year, as only two athletes could qualify for PyeongChang – Keshavan and Jagdish.
To add to that, this is the first time in 12 years that no alpine skier has been able to qualify for the Games. Nadeem, who himself was a part of the Indian contingent back in 2014, holds the federation responsible for this.
Two skiers, who have been consistently competing in international tournaments are Himanshu Thakur and Aanchal Thakur. While the former had qualified for the 2014 Olympics, the latter became the first Indian to win a medal in alpine skiing, clinching bronze in Turkey last month.
However, Nadeem says that both these skiers get extra benefits from the federation, as their father Roshan Lal is the general secretary.
“When an athlete in India wins the nationals, only then they get the opportunity to compete abroad,” says Nadeem. “His (Roshan Lal’s) son never really even made the top 10 properly.
“I’m not blaming his kids. It’s not their fault at all,” he continued. “They are only doing what their father is asking them to do. But as the secretary of the federation, it is his duty to take care of the athletes.
“If some other athletes would have been sent, perhaps we would have seen four-five Olympians this year, instead of just two,” said Nadeem. “This is a very big scam that the federation is running on the athletes. How will the athletes get the motivation to perform if all this happens?”
When Nadeem lost his motivation to ski
Nadeem himself claims to have called out these misdemeanours by the WGFI and its officials after the 2014 Sochi Games. However, that had another effect on the army man’s career in skiing.
He claims to have hung up his ski, as his name was consistently ignored by the WGFI, while picking skiers to train or compete abroad.
“Whenever an opportunity arose for me to compete in a tournament abroad or even train outside India, Roshan Lal Thakur always omitted my name from the roster,” says Nadeem.
The 34-year-old also claims to have been received only Rs 2.5 lakh out of a total of Rs 18 lakh, which was allotted to him for his Olympic sojourn, four years back.
“I didn’t want to leave the sport. But I just couldn’t see any way I could continue with the state of affairs being like this,” he says.
Nadeem had quit professional skiing after the 2014 Olympics, and started coaching the upcoming batch of skiers at the High Altitude Welfare School (HAWS).
A sincere call to ‘Shiva’
With athletes allegedly facing such apathy from the federation, Nadeem believes that the moment is just perfect for India’s winter sports icon Shiva Keshavan to take over as a federation official and change things from within the system.
Shiva, who took part in his sixth and last Winter Olympics in luge last week, had himself admitted that he wants to go into an administrative role in the future.
Nadeem believes that this is the perfect time for the star luger to get into administration.
“We all hope Shiva Keshavan takes up a role at the WGFI and improves things there,” says Nadeem.
“He is a very sporting and helpful man, I went to the Sochi Olympics with him, and he never flinched from helping of us,” he continued. “If he enters the federation, it would be great for the winter athletes in India.”
This may indeed be the opportune moment for Siva to take the WGFI by its horns. General secretary Roshan Lal Thakur’s eight-year tenure at the federation is about to come to an end later this year, and according to the laws, he will have to serve out a four-year cooling-off period before he can return.
While it is still not clear what the future holds for Skiva Keshavan the winter sports administrator, it remains to be seen how Thakur’s impending exit from the WGFI will play out.