The Indian Olympic Association has appointed a five-member ad-hoc committee to restructure the Winter Games Federation of India, which it had suspended last year over discrepancies while conducting elections.
The committee includes six-time Olympian and luge pilot Shiva Keshavan and the secretary general of the Winter Games Federation, Roshan Lal Thakur. The committee will be chaired by Lt General Harpal Singh, who is a director general of military training in the Indian Army. IAS officer Rakesh Sharma will be the convenor, while SM Bali, who is the CEO of the Handball Federation of India, is the fifth member.
Confirming the appointment of the committee, Keshavan told The Field that the aim was to streamline everything and put certain rules and regulations in place with respect to governance, which would conform to international guidelines.
“The Winter Games Federation of India was an umbrella body for winter games but it didn’t really govern all winter games,” Keshavan said. “Nor is there such an umbrella body at the world level. There have been complaints of mismanagement and deserving candidates not being sent for training and competition. Things such as team selection for international competitions and the conduction of national championships would also be looked into.”
Keshavan added that the WGFI would cease to exist in its current form and could become the governing body for just skiing in India, as most of its focus so far has been on that sport. The IOA has asked the committee to figure out how the federation has been functioning until now and take a stock of what the various stakeholders, such as the Indian Army and certain sports clubs that are involved in winter sports, have to say.
“One thing which has to be clear is that it should open the way for all the winter games federations in India – there shouldn’t be conflict,” Keshavan said. “Once that is established, we can push for things like government affiliation and things like that. What I would want to see is long-term planning. We are in touch and a few dates for the meeting have been floated.”
Thakur, whose daughter Aanchal recently became the first Indian to win an international medal in skiing, however said that the WGFI could still come back into the IOA’s fray. “The fact that this ad-hoc committee has been appointed shows that the federation’s ban could be revoked once the concerns over the elections are resolved,” he said.
Will it make a difference?
Cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal, who represented India at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and coached Jagdish Singh at Pyeongchang 2018, however wasn’t very optimistic with the appointment of this ad-hoc committee. “I don’t think this committee will make much of a difference to the way winter sports is governed in this country,” he said.
According to Nadeem, the Indian Army representative in the committee, Lt General Harpal Singh, has no idea about winter sports. Instead of him, Nadeem believes the IOA should have picked Major General Atul Kaushik, who is a commandant at the High-Altitude Army Warfare School in Gulmarg, which is the base for the Indian Army’s winter sports operations. Nadeem and Jagdish both have trained at the school.
Nadeem also alleged that Thakur, as WGFI secretary general, had only ensured that his own children Aanchal and Himanshu Thakur – who represented India at Sochi 2014 – received proper training and participated in international competitions. “After a lot of pleading we managed to convince the federation to send Jagdish for an international competition in December, through which he secured qualification for the Pyeongchang Games,” he said. “I myself stopped competing and took to coaching because the federation did not send me anywhere for training.”
Responding to the allegations, Thakur said that the High-Altitude Army Warfare School was in charge of training Nadeem and Jagdish, adding that it was only because of the federation that both athletes had represented India at the Olympics.
The Field tried contacting IOA secretary general and official spokesperson Rajeev Mehta regarding the appointment of the committee and the selection of its members but received no response. This story shall be updated if and when the IOA responds.