Cross-country skier Jagdish Singh has negotiated many tricky turns and bumps to qualify for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, due to start next week. But the latest challenge might be a hurdle too high: a tussle between the Winter Games Federation of India and his employers, the Indian Army, over who will accompany him to the Games has left him in limbo.
The WGFI has proposed two names of officials to accompany Singh, and the Army's High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS), rejecting those names, has put forward one of its own.
Singh is the only Indian athlete apart from luger Shiva Keshavan to qualify for this edition of the Games. The team leaves for South Korea on Saturday but whether Singh - whose 15-km Nordic skiing freestyle event is scheduled for February 16 - is part of that is still up in the air. "I'm excited to have qualified for the Winter Olympics," he said on Thursday. "But I don't know what's in store for me."
The Indian Olympic Association says that the WGFI had forwarded Jagdish's details to them on Wednesday, three days before the team's departure. "The WGFI has not sent us till today the names of any of the coaches working with the athlete," IOA secretary-general Rajeev Mehta told ESPN on Thursday.
"Instead both the WGFI president JS Dhillon and secretary-general Roshan Lal Thakur wrote to us, nominating themselves through separate mails as the accompanying officials and sending us their documents. Only after we wrote a strong-worded letter to both of them did they furnish us with details of the participating athlete on Wednesday. I will discuss the matter with the IOA president and we hope to resolve this soon," Mehta said.
The IOA nominated Thakur to travel for the Games but that decision was rejected by HAWS, which insisted that an Army officer should rightfully go instead. "We were informed by the WGFI two days ago about the team departure on February 3, which denies us any time to raise this issue," said Captain Chandramouli Sharma from HAWS. "We have trained Jagdish for the past six years and an officer from our unit, a person the athlete is familiar and comfortable with, should accompany him. We have written to the PMO and will be getting in touch with the Sports Ministry and the army headquarters as well over this matter."
HAWS forwarded Major General Atul Kaushik's name to the IOA on Wednesday, requesting that he be included in the contingent in place of the WGFI secretary-general.
"At the previous Asian meet, for which three of our athletes had qualified, one in snowboarding and two in skiing, the WGFI sent coaches who did not even know how to wax a ski," Sharma said.