With less than three months to go for the upcoming Paris Olympics 2024, India are yet to zero in on a chef de mission for the contingent.

Boxer MC Mary Kom – a bronze-medalist from the 2012 London Olympics – was appointed the chef de mission for the Indian contingent in March, with Winter Olympian Shiva Keshavan as the deputy chef de mission.

Along with them, former rifle shooter-turned-coach Gagan Narang, a bronze medallist from the 2012 London Olympics, had been put in charge of India’s shooting contingent that will compete in Paris.

However, on Friday, Kom stepped down from the role citing personal reasons.

“I consider it an honour to serve my country in every way possible, and I was mentally prepared for it,” read Kom’s letter addressed to the Indian Olympic Association President PT Usha. “However, I regret that I will not be able to uphold the prestigious responsibility and would like to resign, owing to personal reasons.”

While it remains to be seen who is now appointed for the role, here’s a look at what a chef de mission is and what duties does that role entail.

What is a chef de mission?

Translated directly from French, chef de mission or “head of mission” is a person appointed to lead and represent a national delegation of athletes at a multi-sport event, such as the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games or the Asian Games.

The role of a chef de mission is multifaceted and includes various responsibilities. Besides leading the country’s delegation, they also serve as a mentor, supporter, and cheerleader, aiming to stimulate and inspire the team and boosting the athletes’ performances.

Duties of the chef de mission

The chef de mission's major responsibility is to serve as the team’s spokesperson in the lead up to and during the multi-sport tournament. As a result, their responsibilities begin months before the Games, when they attend activities such as preparatory seminars for athletes, coaches, and Mission Team members, as well as serving on various Games committees.

In a nutshell, the chef de mission is responsible for overseeing the seamless operation of the national delegation and fostering a pleasant and supportive environment in which athletes can flourish in their particular sports.

Events such as the Olympics are usually well-organised and hence there are less hiccups but in case conflicts or controversies arise, the chef de mission intervenes. It requires a diplomatic and sensible touch to resolve any disputes or challenges in an effective manner.

Why are they important to athletes?

At major multi-sport events, the chef de mission advocates for the delegation’s needs and interests, both within the Games’ organising body and with key stakeholders. They guarantee that the delegation has the resources and support it needs to succeed.

In an Olympics Games, for instance, they supervise logistical operations, organise travel logistics, communicate with the host country’s Olympic organising committee, ensuring adherence to Olympic protocols, resolve any potential issues or conflicts, and provide assistance and guidance to athletes and team members throughout the Games.

To cite an example, the Rio Games were threatened by the Zika virus in 2016 and several international athletes had withdrawn from the event due to the same. As concern around the participation of Indian athletes started to mount, Rakesh Gupta, India’s chef de mission then, stepped up and clarified that the Indian Olympic Association had taken enough measures to educate the athletes about the virus and all the preventive measures had been taken to ensure their well-being.

Similarly, in 2021 in Tokyo, the Indian team’s Chef de Mission, Biren Prasad Baishya was tasked with ensuring the safety of Indian players at the Games Village when a positive Covid-19 case was reported in the premises.

Notable chef de missions for India

Here are some chef de missions who have represented India at various international multi-sport events in recent times:

Rakesh Gupta: The former joint secretary Rakesh Gupta of Indian Olympic Association was appointed the chef de mission in the Rio Olympics 2016.

Vikram Singh Sisodia: The former joint secretary of Indian Olympic Association was appointed the chef de Mission for the 21st Commonwealth Games 2018 in Gold Coast, Australia.

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh: Former Wrestling Federation of India president was appointed the chef de Mission of the Indian contingent for the Asian Games 2018.

Biren Prasad Baishya: Baishya, then president of the Indian Weightlifting Federation was appointed as the Chef de Mission for India at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which took place in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rakesh Anand: The Indian Olympic Association senior vice-president at the time had been chosen as India’s chef de mission for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Bhupender Singh Bajwa: The current president of the Wushu Association of India was the chef de mission at the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023.