These appear to be Games that no one wants to come play. With barely four weeks left before the supposed inauguration of the Winter SAF Games, none of the seven invited South Asian Federation (SAF) countries have confirmed their participation yet.
That’s not all. Athletes from India too are clueless, as no team has been announced.
The Games (Jan 7-17), at Dehradun and Auli in Uttarakhand, have already been postponed thrice since 2008 due to lack of infrastructure and yet another postponement looks imminent. The slated events are ice-skating and alpine skiing. The ice skating rink is being built at Dehradun while Auli is the skiing venue.
Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) secretary Roshan Lal Thakur confirmed to HT WGFI has not received any entry till date. He, however, played down talks of postponement. “Although there has been no confirmation from foreign teams, we are hoping that they will come," said Thakur on the phone from Manali.
The WGFI has also not announced any deadline for entries and Thakur said foreign athletes would be entertained even at the eleventh hour!
One of the reasons behind the lack of interest in the Games among the members — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan — is that winter sports are not very popular in the region. After all, one does need snow to ski. Only athletes from Pakistan and Nepal have been competing in international events so far.
It is also baffling that the Games would see competition in only ice skating and skiing with a sport like Luge, which has seen Indian participation even in the Winter Olympics, being ignored. “This apathy itself shows that level of interest among the organisers (WGFI) in conducting the Games. Luge would have been a sure-shot gold,” says Shiva Kesavan, India's most popular winter sports athlete.
Infrastructure not yet ready
Infrastructure for the Games remains a big headache with construction going on at snail's pace. Even senior officials of the Uttarakhand government, speaking on the condition of anonymity, raised concerns over the pace of work. Additional secretary (sports) Ranjit Sinha, refused to speak on the issue saying principal secretary (sports) Rakesh Kumar Sharma was the right person to talk to. However, Sharma did not respond to calls. The state of preparation would be tested during the Doon Open Ice Skating championship (Dec 21-24) and the Auli Open Ski Championship (Dec 27-30).