India's top winter athlete in funding crisis

Winter sport

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 Kesavan 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,'' Kesavan told The Associated Press in an e-mail interview 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.''

Kesavan'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 Kesavan, 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 medalists!

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