Winter Olympics 2018: 'Should have started preparing much in advance,' says India's Chef De Mission Harjinder Singh Jindi
The Winter Olympics are just around the corner, and India is all set to send its small, yet determined contingent to PyeongChang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
India’s contingent has been greatly reduced this time around, with Shiva Keshavan (luge) and Jagdish Singh (cross-country skiing) being the only two representatives to the Winter Games.
As the two-man contingent (along with other officials) get set to take off for South Korea later this week, Sportskeeda caught up with India’s Chef De Mission Harjinder Singh Jindi, who also happens to be the Ice Hockey Association of India chief.
Here are some of the excerpts from our conversation with him.
Q: We just have a two-man contingent this time. Is this a worrying sign?
A: We had hopes of getting three more skiers in the contingent. The problem is that it’s a points system for the qualification process. What happened was that the schedules were very tight, and it becomes expensive to go around to compete everywhere as well.
Also, there was another race in Auli, which got cancelled due to less snowfall. For Luge, Shiva has been training abroad, so his case is different.
For ice-skating, we don’t have a proper rink, so that becomes a problem. The athletes can’t practice properly. The only rink that we have is in Dehradun, and that is lying shut.
The facilities are not there, as such. Hence, the individual athletes have to manage. There has been some support from the National Sports Development Fund also, for Shiva and a few of the skiers. So they have been able to at least go out and participate. But it's not the case for the other winter sports like ice skating. Ice hockey will take time because it’s a different qualification process altogether.
Q: How do you think we should go about building a winter sports culture in a predominantly warm country like India?
A: Most of these sports are all regional based. Since they are mainly restricted to just certain parts, it becomes more difficult to get various other benefits from the central government.
The tourism industry needs to step in. Sports tourism a big part of this, and can help build the culture of winter sports. Kashmir has always been called the Switzerland of this continent. So you can always have a number of foreigners come and ski over here. You have so many Americans playing ice-hockey in Kashmir.
You still get a lot of Indians who go to Gulmarg. And the people of Kashmir definitely understand the value of tourism. This has been their livelihood, and they will welcome any kind of support that comes in.
Q: Shiva Keshavan will now draw level with Leander Paes, to represent India in six Olympics. How big an achievement is this for winter sports?
A: It’s a great achievement for Shiva. But now it’s time for him to work on creating new athletes in luge. He should be a role model for a lot many.
Unlike tennis, where a lot of kids take up the sport, he needs to actually become the ambassador for winter sports. This is also something that the luge federation should look at. I think they should be able to go about developing more athletes in India.
Q: For the first time in 12 years, we do not have any alpine skiers representing India in the Winter Olympics. Is this a bad omen for the sport?
A: We should have prepared much in advance. Even the National Sports Development Fund has supported the alpine skiers. But the respective athlete or the WGFI need to address this issue.
Himanshu couldn’t qualify because he reached Tehran really late, and then in the first round, he did badly. He improved in the second, but then they count the average, so he missed out there. It's disheartening for the athlete, but these sort of things happen.
Q: What do you think will be the target for Shiva Keshavan and Jagdish Singh this time around?
A: Their main aim will be to improve their existing positions at the Games. Finishing in the top 20 positions will be the ideal thing. For Shiva, I guess a top-10 finish would be ideal. I’m not so sure about winning medals, as I am not aware what Shiva and Jadish’s timings have been.
Finishing well at the Olympics will certainly give a lot of boost to their morale, and the morale of the rest of the athletes in their sport. Considering what we have in hand, expecting a medal right now could be a bit too far-fetched.
Q: How much hope do programmes like Khelo India give to the winter sports community?
A: Khelo India is a great initiative to develop sports across the country. Right now, there are 16 disciplines, and winter sports are not among these. But winter sports is something that is region-based.
If we have rinks across the country, then this would not be a problem. The more school kids join in, the better. This should really be a multi-sport event. Someone who can’t make it in those 16 disciplines can look at alternate routes in other sports. That’s what happens internationally.
These decisions are taken between the age of five to seven. Instead of picking up athletes at the age of 18-19, if we can identify the talents 10 years earlier, I think we can produce a lot more Olympians in the future.
Plus, the more competitions they have, the better they will be when they reach the senior level. Other than being physically strong, they will have mental strength as well.
Q: Jagdish Singh's training has been supported by the Army. How big a part do you think the Army has played in developing winter sports in India?
A: The Army has been contributing quite a lot to winter sports in India. They have some of the best facilities at higher altitudes in the Himalayas. The higher you go, the closer you are to the borders, where there’s plenty of snow available. And skiing is a part of all the jawans, so that helps them a lot.
Civilians can also take up one these sports, but for them, they would need to move to one of the places where winter sports facilities are readily available so that they can practice properly.
Q: There's been a big shift in Indian sports last year, with Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore being appointed as the Sports Minister, while Narinder Batra taking over at the IOA. What kind of changes have they brought over?
A: Mr Rathore is someone who understands sports very well, and I think he is taking good steps towards helping the athlete in our country. With the IOA also joining hands with the Sports Ministry, I think that there is scope for a lot of growth in the future. This is actually the first time I am seeing certain vibes coming in from the ministry of sports and IOA. Between both the organizations and with (Narinder) Batra as the (IOA) president, I think it should be good for the sports.
You have to understand that these (Rathore and Batra) are guys who eat, sleep and drink sports. Earlier, we had people who just wanted their designations. The decisions are being made at a much faster pace. Mr Batra is at the helm, and he likes to control things. Things are now going in the right time. He took charge only in December, and there has already been so much change.