It was a situation the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) wouldn’t have foreseen when its officials left the Indian shores for Incheon.
That a mundane thing such as the announcement of the flag-bearer for the Asian Games opening ceremony on Friday would become a Herculean task became evident on Thursday when the name of the person to do the honours was withheld till the deadline for submitting it to the Incheon Asian Games Organising Committee (IAGOC) was barely an hour away.
According the Asian Games rules, the name of the flag-bearer has to be given to the organising committee 24 hours in advance.
Finally, the Chef-de-Mission of the Indian contingent, Adille Sumariwala, himself a former sprinter who has competed in the Asian Games in the ‘80s, announced the name of hockey captain, Sardar Singh.
It was a visibly agitated Sumariwala who told HT on Thursday morning that he would announce the name by the afternoon, but it got delayed further and during the “Team Welcome Ceremony” at the Games Village in the evening he said he would announce the name at 8:00pm.
He would have heaved a sigh of relief after announcing the name as in the morning, and maybe till the evening, he had very limited, or no, options. There was hardly any big athlete who had checked into the Games Village till Thursday morning. “There is hardly anyone. We have shortlisted 5-6 names but don’t know when they would arrive here.... I don’t know when Vikas Gowda (Glasgow CWG discus gold medallist) will arrive...”
As highlighted by HT on Thursday, the stringent sports ministry order that athletes would be paid daily allowance for only five days before the commencement of the Games forced many national federations to reschedule the flights to Incheon, thus leaving the IOA high and dry vis-a-vis the selection of the flag-bearer is concerned.
Sumariwala, while announcing the name, admitted that under the circumstances Sardar was the best choice, saying “Sardar becoming the flag-bearer will be good advertisement for Indian hockey.” He added: “the boxers haven’t come, the shooters are not there and those shooters who are there want to concentrate on their events, which begin on the morning after the opening ceremony.
“I agree with them. Why should they waste eight hours --- from 4:00 pm to midnight --- when they are here to win medals”?
But such thinking never dawned on the IOA when they asked shooter Gagan Narang to do the honours at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, despite his event being scheduled the next morning. Or Abhinav Bindra, who was pursued till the last moment to be the flag-bearer at the 2012 London Olympic Games before he finally said no.