Winter Olympics 2018: Why does India have only two participants in PyeongChang?
The 2018 Winter Olympics began this week in PyeongChang, South Korea. Athletes from 92 countries are contesting in 102 events across 15 sports to gain glory for themselves and for their country.
For the rest of the world, this event is perhaps the largest sports event on the calendar this year, apart from the FIFA World Cup later this year. Yet in India, the world's largest democracy and the country with the tallest snow-clad mountain range in the world, the event is a no-starter.
Very few Indians are aware of the fact that only two athletes are competing on behalf of the country - luger Shiva Keshavan and skier Jagdish Singh. That is the same number of delegates sent by Mongolia, which has a population of 3 million. China, with whom the comparisons are often done, is represented by 81 athletes.
Indians celebrated the fact that we sent our largest delegation ever to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. After the disastrous performance of our athletes, focus now has rightly shifted to equipping and training them better. The government's initiatives to popularize sports in the country are laudable. However, most of these initiatives focus on summer sports - with athletics, football and traditional sports like Kabbadi taking prominence.
One argument has been that India is a tropical country and hence, our focus is in the right direction. However, more than 30 million people live in the five states that span the world's tallest snow-clad mountain range. In terms of population and area that the snowy regions the states occupy, we rival most of the nations in the world.
If the objective of the government is to encourage people to play sports for a healthy lifestyle, promoting sports that suit the landscape is a must. Promoting winter sports in these five states will increase the chances of unearthing hidden potential, and will improve the country's image on the world stage.
If the any of the two athletes win a medal, then only the press will highlight their struggles for a few days, the government will bestow awards on them.
India's infrastructural problems in the summer sports are well known, we need to recognize that our winter sports infrastructure is almost non-existent and act on it. We also need to develop the support system - coaches, equipment manufacturers and medical staff, apart from popularizing the sports in the country.
Let's hope that India sends a bigger delegation to the 2022 games in China.