Winter sports in India had received a boost at the start of the year when on January 13, Aanchal Thakur won the country’s first-ever international medal in skiing. The 21-year-old’s bronze medal in the Alpine Ejder 3200 Cup organised by the International Ski Federation (FIS)— at the Palandoken Ski Centre in Erzurum in Turkey was a significant moment in the history of winter sports in the country.
Although winter sports traces its heritage all the way back to 1964 when Jeremy John Bujakowski became the first Indian to compete at the Innsbruck Winter Games, success has been hard to come by.
The governance of ski in India has been on a downhill slide and hit its lowest point this year. Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) established in 1984 was perceived as the governing body for all winter sports. Over time, separate National Sports Federations have been formed for all Olympic winter sports and WGFI was reduced as the governing body for only ski and snowboard with affiliation to International Ski Federation (FIS).
The last election of WGFI was held in 2014. Within months the Sports Ministry challenged the elections, as it was not conducted according to the provisions of the National Sports Development Code of 2011. “This letter about our elections being invalid was sent to us in December 2015,” says Roshan Lal Thakur, the former General Secretary of the WGFI. “But we could not hold fresh elections immediately because our constitution had not been amended (to be in line with the Sports Code)”, said Thakur. In 2017, the Sports Ministry de-recognized WGFI for failing to comply with the directive to conduct another election.
The lack of a functioning National Federation took a toll on the athletes. In January 2018, a FIS international competition that was to be held in India was cancelled. At the Winter Olympics in February more chaos followed as cross country skier Jagdish Singh’s participation was thrown into jeopardy after ambiguity crept into the choice of coaches permitted to accompany him to the Games in Pyeongchang.
In a bid to resolve the logjam, the IOA formed a six-member Ad-Hoc Committee in February 2018 with Mr. Rakesh Sharma (IAS Retd.) as its convenor, for interim governance of ski and snowboard until institutional reform and new elections are completed.
In May, the IOA’s proposal for interim governance of ski and snowboard in India received the backing of FIS. The matter was discussed in the Meeting of the FIS Council during the FIS Congress in Costa Navarino in May 2018, and consequently the IOA was assigned as the governing body for the sport until the next election of the WGFI was held as per the norms of the Sports Code and the IOA Constitution. “We sincerely appreciate that the Indian Olympic Association will ensure that ski and snowboard activities in and with the participation of Indian representation and most especially that the athletes are able to continue their participation in international competitions,” the FIS wrote to the IOA in a letter.
Rajeev Mehta, Secretary General of IOA said, “In similar cases mostly athletes face difficulties regarding training and participation in international competitions. We have reached consensus with FIS to ensure athlete’s participation does not suffer. The IOA has also initiated discussion with Swedish NOC for joint collaboration to facilitate the training of young skiers”.
A formal ratification of the FIS decision is expected in the Executive Council of IOA on June 2. For athletes like Aanchal Thakur the hope remains that the sport will quickly move back to firmer ice as quickly as possible.