The indoor events of the inaugural South Asian Winter Games, which begin on Monday, have turned out to be a bit of an embarrassment for the organisers as countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Pakistan don't even have the experience to compete in ice-hockey or other events scheduled in Dehra Dun.
While the Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) has been forced to scrap ice hockey from the list of medal events, the technical committee is also in a fix as to how to draw the fixtures in other disciplines, given the poor response.
WGFI president, SS Patwal, told HT that due to lack of participation, ice hockey would be a demonstration event this time. "The officials from other countries haven't given their entries, so we decided to hold a demo event for ice hockey," he said.
Other indoor events, including speed skating, could also see only the home team competing, with itself. "If players from other nations request for equipment, we've ample to spare," the WGFI president said.
Going by the lukewarm response of foreign participants, the WGFI's wisdom to hold the event by spending a huge amount is questionable. Patwal, however, plays down the issue, saying, "Winter games have a lot of potential in the country. We felt that for its development, a South Asian tournament was necessary." The sports ministry has released Rs 5 crore, while the Uttarakhand government has contributed 10 % of the total amount for the conduct. The participating teams, apart from free boarding and lodging, also got free air passage.
Talking of team composition, the five-member Nepal contingent is made up of novices, with three teenagers. Pargun Maharjan, a seventh grade student from Kathmandu, is happy to be here. "It will be a good learning experience to see indoor events on artificial ice."
Maharjan's teammate, Sweta Shrestha, another school-going student, also hasn't seen competition on artificial ice. "We don't have such facilities back home," she said.
Players from Nepal don't even have the equipment for outdoor competitions that will commence in Auli from January 14. Nepal's team official Sher Bahadur Gurung, however, says one of the members knows skiing but doesn't have equipment. "If the organisers provide us with equipment, it will help us compete," he said.
The story is similar for Maldives. Team official, Dheema Hassan, says all the members in his team are beginners, and are relying on WGFI to provide equipment.
Even the 27-member Pakistan team has shown little interest in indoor events, saying outdoor events "fit our bill". Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too haven't sent in their entries for indoor competitions.
A cold response, shall we say!