With just 10 days to go, the intended travelling party of 942 athletes and officials was cut by nearly a third in a cost-saving move which discarded 146 competitors seen as having little chance of a medal. Separately, India’s boxers, led by multiple world champion Mary Kom, face the prospect of not being able to fight under the national flag following a row with the International Boxing Association.
India are seeking a record Asian Games medal haul despite a chaotic build-up, with their jumbo squad slashed at the last minute, their boxers under a cloud and top athletes either injured or opting out.
Star boxer Vijender Singh is out injured, while Olympic medal-winning wrestler Sushil Kumar and India’s number one tennis player Somdev Devvarman are both concentrating on other competitions.
In a further blow to tennis hopes, doubles specialists Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza were granted permission by the All-India Tennis Association on Wednesday to skip the Games. India will not even compete in its strongest sport, cricket, because the Indian board refuses to take part in multi-discipline events.
Organisational headaches are not new to India, whose athletes marched under a neutral flag at this year’s Winter Olympics following the suspension of the Indian Olympic Association.
And despite the problems, India are bullish about their prospects at the Asian Games, a 36-sport spectacular in
Incheon, South Korea which will open on 19 September.
“I am very optimistic we will get 70-75 medals, if not more,” declared Jiji Thomson, the director-general of the state-run Sports Authority of India. “The squad have been picked keeping medals in mind.”
India’s best Asian Games performance was winning 65 medals, including 14 gold ones, four years ago in Guangzhou, when they were coming off hosting the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
India will take part in 28 disciplines after others including bowling, karate, modern pentathlon, rugby, soft tennis and triathlon were axed on Tuesday in the sports ministry’s cull.
Their boxers will not know until a few days before the Games open in Incheon whether they will compete under the national flag — if they are allowed in at all.
The International Boxing Association, which suspended the Indian federation in 2012 owing to election malpractice, wants polls to a provisional body.
India may also suffer from the loss of cue sports, chess and roller sports, the source of eight of their medals in Guangzhou, which are no longer part of the Asiad schedule. Five of India’s 14 gold medals in 2010 came from track and field, but they fared poorly at this year’s Glasgow Commonwealth Games where discus-thrower Vikas Gowda was their only winner.
India’s first and only Olympic individual gold medallist, Abhinav Bindra, leads a strong shooting squad even though China and hosts South Korea are runaway favourites in most events on the ranges.
At Guangzhou, India won just one gold medal in shooting through double-trap marksman Ronjan Sodhi. But the hockey team’s Australian coach Terry Walsh, encouraged by their second-place finish in Glasgow, is hoping to end the country’s Asian Games drought in a sport it once ruled.
The eight-time Olympic champions have won the Asiad title just twice, both times in Bangkok in 1966 and 1998. In comparison, arch-rivals Pakistan have eight golds to their credit.
Upset with the “manipulative” Asian Games singles draw, India’s top squash player Dipika Pallikal is “seriously considering” pulling out of the upcoming Incheon Games and possibly handing another setback to the country’s medals tally. Pallikal and her longtime teammate Joshana Chinappa are drawn to meet in the quarterfinals a month after winning India’s first ever squash medal at the Commonwealth Games, where they bagged the gold in the women’s doubles.
Managers to be included
Faced with severe criticism from various quarters on the composition of Indian contingent for the Asian Games, the government is set to make a U-turn and name managers in 23 disciplines out of 28 the country will compete in the multi-sporting event.