Winter Games Federation and the changing face of Indian Winter Sports

The Winter Games Federation of India was derecognised by the Indian Olympic Association earlier last week and an ad-hoc five member committee has been appointed in its place. The reasons cited for the de-affiliation of this body was on the grounds of discrepancies in the manner in which elections were conducted.

The ad-hoc committee that has been appointed includes the likes of Shiva Keshavan and WGFI secretary Roshan Lal Thakur, Lt General Harpal Singh, Rakesh Sharma and SM Bali. According to Roshan Lal Thakur, the first issue that the IOA had with the WGFI was that elections had been due for two years.

The last time that elections were held was in 2014 but the Ministry of Sports informed the Federation that the manner in which they were held did not conform to the Ministry guidelines and rendered the elections invalid. The Federation was then asked to hold fresh elections.

‘This letter about our elections being invalid and was sent to us in December 2015. But we could not hold fresh elections immediately because our constitution had not been amended. The previous body informed us that all was in order and we realised it was otherwise only in 2017’, said Roshan Lal Thakur to The Bridge.

‘We brought the matter up in an executive meeting that took place in November 2017 and it was decided that fresh elections would be conducted as soon as possible.’, continued Thakur.

In January 2018, an international tournament had been organised (later cancelled due to the lack of snow) in Dehradun while in February, the Winter Olympics took place. The executive board had plans to begin the election process immediately after and finally hold elections on the 3rd of April. These plans were thwarted when the election of the IOA took place in December 2017.

‘When we entered the room to exercise our votes for the IOA, we were asked to leave the room, as per orders from the Delhi High Court. Apparently, we had lost our voting rights because the Ministry of Sports had deemed us de-recognised. All the chaotic developments took place after that,’ recalled Thakur.

Thakur went on to suggest that these decisions took a toll on the athletes as well since the winter Olympics were so close by. ‘All the problems that the athletes faced, with coaches and logistics is because the machinery had somewhat been derailed. It was already derecognised by the Ministry of Sports and this treatment from the IOA was a definitely a severe blow,’ he said.

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Coming to the ad-hoc committee being appointed, Thakur sounded optimistic stating that things would get better if the committee worked together in bringing things back on track and amending the constitution without any delay.

‘The call of the hour is to hold a meeting immediately so that we can pan out everything that needs to be done without wasting more time. Once that is done, I don’t think there will be any problem. The WGFI was a small team, and so is this ad-hoc committee. If we put our heads together, we can get the work done and there should not be more problems.’ he said.

‘If we want to be serious, we have to be realistic. It is not possible for a group of five people to run and keep track of everything. We need to find a proper way to delegate. There are so many things- coaches, training, athlete selection. In order to do all this, the committee needs to meet and chalk things out so that the right people are appointed.’ Thakur added.

Thakur was also quite certain that if the committee worked out its glitches and smoothened things out, the WGFI would be reinstated in its previous capacity, not before long. The Winter Games Federation of India, without the support of the Ministry of Sports, falls short in its scope since it is impossible to run these sports on a private basis.

‘For any sport to run properly, it needs the support of the government, especially when there is a dearth of sponsors in our field. It is not possible to build the infrastructure of winter sports by ourselves. Nature has given India everything, it is up to us to make use of it.’ he said.

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‘Further, support from the government would mean a lot to aspiring athletes. Unlike other sports, if a winter athlete wins a medal, there is no incentive. So maybe once the WGFI is reinstated, recognised by the sports ministry, we can talk about giving incentives to winter sports athletes, be it jobs or financial aid or anything.’ he suggested.

The importance of government backing was something his daughter, Aanchal Thakur hopes for. Aanchal became the first ever Indian to win a medal in skiing when she won bronze in the coveted Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup organised by the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS).

However, surprisingly enough, Aanchal did not share the same kind of confidence that her father does in the ad-hoc committee. While she agreed with the importance of government support, she was highly sceptical of how much this committee can achieve.

‘I don’t think an ad-hoc committee is capable of running the way a federation can. For instance, we do not have the right kind of infrastructure and we need to go abroad to train. I don’t think the committee has much idea about the technical aspects that are in play. I also don’t think that all the members know enough about all the sports, for instance, skiing.  I don’t think their connections are as strong as the WGFI either.’ she said.

‘I really hope that the WGFI comes back in its previous capacity, with financial support from the government. It is much easier to raise funds for such expensive sports. This is not cricket or football, our equipment are terribly expensive. It’s not possible for a lot of people to take interest in this without funding.’ she added.

It is interesting how the ad-hoc committee includes Aanchal’s father and India’s lone Luger Shiva Keshavan, but somehow that is not enough for Aanchal. It is also going to be interesting to see how things pan out from here, considering the fact that in previous occasions, Roshan Lal Thakur was accused by coaches of others monopolising skiing opportunities for Aanchal and Himanshu Thakur. If these accusations are true, then it is a wonder as to how much will change by placing him once again in the ad-hoc committee.

According to recent developments, the ad-hoc committee will now re-dfraft the constitution and will adhere to the Olympic charter as well as come up with a  shall: Redraft constitution as per Olympic charter and also make a number of other changes.

His tweet read: “WGFI suspended from IOA, Ministry & IF The ad-hoc committee shall: Redraft constitution as per Olympic charter, sports code, NOC, IF Review election procedure Create athletes commission, ethics panel, technical commission & much more!”