NEW DELHI: India's only world-class winter sports competitor is in doubt for the Winter Olympics due to a shortage of government funding, despite recently setting an Asian record.
Luge competitor Shiva Keshavan retained gold at the Asia Cup in the Japanese city of Nagano last December with a continental record of 49.590 seconds, but his ambition of becoming the first Indian to win a medal at next month's Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi is now in the balance.
The 32-year-old Kesavan says funding assurances from the sports ministry have not translated into much and he has only got around 5 per cent of what was expected.
"There is a huge difference in the verbal commitments and the actual support," Keshavan said from his present base of Albertville in France. "None of my expenses for the past season have been reimbursed by the government. My coach, who trained me for four months has quit because he has not been paid his salary."
Keshavan's mother hails from Italy, but he does not despair at having chosen to represent India over Italy.
"I'm very happy with my choice as I do not think that I would get this kind of satisfaction to represent another country. I want to contribute much more for my country in future as well, although I know that this path is not without obstacles," said Keshavan, who lives in the northern Indian hill city of Manali and where he honed his skills initially.
"Athletes from Italy are extremely professional, they are well taken care of by their country and they are given officers' posts in the army, police and other such institutions which guarantees them a salary and a pension. Of course, there is a much more of a chance to produce Olympic gold medallists!
Still, for some unknown reason, there is a different sense of fulfillment and passion when you represent your own country."
Seasoned Indian journalist Jasvinder Sidhu says he has not seen a more gritty athlete than Keshavan.
"His determination and dedication are tremendous," said Sidhu, made a documentary film on Keshavan last year. "He is a household name in his hometown, but the fact is that in the beginning people did not even know what he was being felicitated for. Considering that even describing his sport has been a big challenge for him all this while, his achievements are huge."
Sidhu says the support of his parents and highly-qualified wife Namita, who has a business degree and also a degree in organizational psychology from the London School of Economics, has been playing a crucial role as Keshavan's manager.
"The support from family and his perseverance has to be commended because of the risk he took by investing everything into the sport at a time when the National Luge Federation was yet to be formed and winter sports were virtually unheard of in the country," Sidhu said.
Keshavan may have struggled with a sport not known in India but sees potential for winter sports and promises to promote it in the coming years.
"India has the potential to become amongst the top winter sports nations. We have the best natural resources and we have a large amount of young, upcoming and enthusiastic winter sportspersons. I would like to use my experience to collaborate with the government to bring world-class infrastructure and make a sustainable winter sports development program in India," Keshavan said.