India's Olympic athletes will be at Sochi, but not their country

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World.
As far as the Winter Olympics go, this story falls into the "cutting it to the last minute" box. Imagine you're an athlete who's qualified for the games in Sochi, but you only found out yesterday that you can actually go. And three weeks out, you still don't have funding to actually get the right equipment. Also, that heartwarming opening ceremonies bit, well, you won't be able to carry your country's flag. That's the case for three aspiring Olympians from India.
The World's Rhitu Chatterjee is in Delhi, and she's been following this saga. Rhitu, this has gotta be pretty disappointing for these athletes, even though they're going. What are the events these athletes are competing in?

Rhitu Chatterjee: So you have Shiva Keshavan, Marco, who is competing in the luge category. Then you have alpine skier Himanshu Thakur, and you have cross-country skier, Nadeem Iqbal. So these are the three athletes competing in three different categories.

Werman: And how did--

Chatterjee: And yes, they're very disappointed.

Werman: Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, how did India's participation in the Sochi games get so discombobulated?

Chatterjee: So the International Olympics Committee disqualified the Indian Olympics Association from actually participating in the Olympics, because two of its top officials have corruption charges filed against them. Basically, what the International Olympics Committee said is that you can participate, if by February you hold fresh elections and have corruption charge-free officials at the top. But the Indian Olympics Association has been dragging its feet, and so that's how this disaster happened.

Werman: So are the athletes themselves speaking out about how their government officials, or their Olympic officials anyway, put their ability to participate in jeopardy?

Chatterjee: You know, a couple of them, yes, have spoken to journalists here in India, and Indian papers have been writing about this. And they have very clearly said, "It's very, very disappointing." I mean, imagine training all this while, putting in all this hard work, and a lot of them have raised their own funds, collected money from their families and friends to train, and now we can't carry the Indian flag. We don't really have a national identity at the Olympics. It's pretty disheartening.

Werman: Yeah, tell me about that flag part. I mean, will they be able to march in the opening ceremony, just not carry the flag? What's going on there?

Chatterjee: They will be able to march, just not carry the Indian flag. And should they win, the Indian anthem cannot play. So when they're marching, they can carry the Olympic flag, but they just will not be representing India.

Werman: Have any of these three guys participated in Olympic games before?

Chatterjee: So luge competitor, Shiva Keshavan, has. This is actually his fifth Winter Olympics. He was in fact the first Indian to ever qualify for a Winter Olympics, way back in the late 1990s.

Werman: Rhitu, I gotta say, if there is any illustration of what Indian contenders for the Winter Olympics have to cope with, this is it. You mentioned Shiva Keshavan, the luger. This is from a promotional video from the Olympics.

Shiva Keshavan: We don't have a luge track in India, so to practice, what we do is we modified the sleds. We put roller wheels on them instead of the blades, and we go down the only place we can, which is the mountain highway.

Werman: Yeah, you heard that right. He goes down a mountain highway on a luge, adapted with wheels and not blades. I've seen the video, he's dodging goats, and cars, and all sorts of stuff. It's crazy.

Chatterjee: [Laughs]

Werman: The World's Rhitu Chatterjee, in Delhi. Thanks so much.

Chatterjee: Thank you, Marco.