Weary India groans at new chapter of humiliation in Sochi
India's Himanshu Thakur (C), Shiva Keshava (3rd R) and Nadeem Iqbal (2nd R) pose with an Indian flag after a flag raising ceremony at the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 16, 2014 - by John Macdougall
While its arch rival China prepares a heroes' welcome for its latest batch of medal-winners, there will be no such fanfare in India from sports fans who have grown tired of failure and weary of scandal.
"India is so used to Olympic failures that nothing comes as a surprise any more," said Aslam Sher Khan, one of the few Indians to have tasted success when the hockey team won bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
"It's a case of no tears, no cheers," Khan told AFP.
Veteran luger Shiva Keshavan, competing in his fifth Winter Olympics, was the country's only real hope ahead of the Sochi Games but he finished 37th out of 39 competitors on the opening weekend.
There was a similarly ignominious end for cross country skier Nadeem Iqbal who finished 85th out of 87 in his event on Friday.
Skier Himanshu Thakur is the only Indian left standing now but few expect the rank outsider to end India's long medal drought when he competes in the giant slalom event on Wednesday.
India has never won a medal at the winter games and has only ever scooped one individual gold at an Olympics, with Abhinav Bindra taking the honours in a rifle shooting event at the 2008 Beijing summer games.
- Makes little sense -
With a population of more than a billion and with 10 states of its 28 states all or partly nestled in the Himalayas, India's absence from the medal table makes little sense at first glance.
But long-time observers say the history of failure should come as no surprise, accusing administrators of being more concerned about protecting their own fiefdoms than targeting success.
At the opening ceremony, the Indian team were unable to parade under their own flag as the national Olympic association had been suspended over corruption concerns.
The 14-month ban was lifted several days later after the Indian Olympic Association elected new leaders, excluding officials who have been accused of corruption over the chaotic organisation of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
When India's flag was belatedly raised at the athletes village in the mountains above Sochi on Sunday, Keshavan pleaded for the new IOA body to recify the problems.
"This is the flag of our country. The change is a symbolic change but now we need to see real change," he said.
"They have the power to make a difference and they start with a clean slate."
In the absence of any silverware, the abiding image of the games for many Indians will be of their competitors having to carry the Olympic flag at the opening extravaganza.
"We can't blame our athletes for failing at Sochi," said Khan.
- 'Corrupt officials concerned about cosy fiefdom' -
"Performance is linked to national pride. How can you feel that when there is no flag, no anthem?"
Rahul Mehra, who has campaigned to clean up the administration of Indian sports, said too many bosses did not appear to be bothered about performances.
"The sports officials in India are a thick-skinned lot," Mehra, a lawyer who works for the Clean Sports India pressure group, told AFP.
"Athletes are the last people on their minds. All these corrupt officials are bothered about is their cosy fiefdom."
The new boss of the IOA is N. Ramachandran, brother of the Indian cricket board chief N. Srinivasan who has himself been drawn into a bribery and betting scandal in a domestic Twenty20 competition.
The cricket team are the holders of the World Cup but it is one of the few areas of sport in which India can claim to be a dominant force.
Football for example is popular in parts of the country, especially in the east but India is only ranked 156 in the world.
Talk of a star-studded tournament featuring retired greats such as Thierry Henry fizzled out last year. The game in India has also been dogged by several fixing scandals.
While the heads of sporting federations in many countries are accountable to governments who regard success on the field as essential to national prestige, many administrators in India openly defy pressure from outside.
Hockey star Khan, part of the Indian team which won the 1975 World Cup, said the country's rulers were guilty of giving way too easily and that sporting fortunes could be turned round if there was the "political will".
"There is no dearth of talent in India. It just needs nurturing. With proper backing we can change the face of Indian sports," he said.
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