The 2022 Winter Olympics will kick start from 4th February 2022 in Beijing, China in the middle of a raging pandemic. India's only representative in the quadrennial event, Arif Khan, will be in action in two events – Slalom and Giant Slalom alpine skiing events on 13th and 16th February respectively.
The 2022 Winter Games, much like any other sporting event, is not devoid of any controversies. Multiple countries are boycotting the games diplomatically citing human rights violations in the country, while others worried of their athletes' safety and privacy have asked them to use burner phones while in China for the event.
Though India did nothing of the sort, they did send a solid statement by deciding to boycott the opening and closing ceremony of the games after a People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldier involved in the Galwan Valley clashes with the country was made a torch bearer in the Torch Rally earlier this week.
While many applauded this stance from the Indian government, the others questioned, "Why not boycott the Winter Olympics entirely?"
The simple reason being the efforts put in by the athletes or in this case singular athlete – Arif Khan.
Having taken up the sport when he was just 5-year-old, Arif, has competed at many top level tournaments with his family funding his career for a majority of the part. He just about missed the qualification to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, failing to compete in a race in Europe after a futile attempt in crowdfunding his finances.
It was only after this that Arif Khan was included in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS), eventually forcing his way into the Beijing Winter Games.
India's history at the Winter Games is not something sports fans in the country can be proud of. The country made its official debut at the quadrennial event during the 1964 Games with a Polish-Indo alpine skier, Jeremy Bujakowski, competing in the downhill event.
Bujakowski competed in 1968 as well, before India went on a 2-decade long hiatus before returning to the 1988 Games in Calgary in Canada.
Over the years, India has seen just 15 athletes, including two women compete at the Winter Olympics with Shiva Keshavan being only one apart from Bujakowski to qualify multiple times. Khan will become only the 16th Indian athlete to appear at the prestigious event when he starts his event less than 10 days from now.
The story of India's winter sports has never been smooth. Starting from 2006, the number of athletes India have sent to the Games have seen a sharp decline with each passing edition.
If there were 4 Indian athletes in 2006 Turin, the number fell to three in 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Russia. The number further dipped to 2 in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, which also marked the sixth consecutive appearance for Shiva Keshavan in the Olympics.
The number has further dipped this year, with Arif Khan being the lone warrior.
Moreover, the three athletes who competed in the 2014 Sochi Games – Keshavan, Himanshu Thakur and Nadeem Iqbal, did not technically represent India. With the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2012, the three athletes played under the Olympic flag.
Winter Sports has never really flourished in India, despite the heroics of Shiva Keshavan and others over the years. In fact, much like everything else, it has only taken a further hit after the covid-19 pandemic.
Arif Khan, under such circumstances, has done a commendable job of qualifying to the Winter Olympics. He, sure, won't be a medal contender in Beijing and India's wait for their maiden Winter Olympics podium is expected to continue. But to ensure that winter sports in India does not become obscure it is our duty as sports fans to cheer for Arif Khan.