Shiva Keshavan: five-time Olympian out of Luge Worlds

Due to lack of financial support, Shiva Keshavan, who has two gold medals in the Asia Cup, is the first Indian to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games and recently won a silver in the Asian Championship, has been forced to quit from the Luge World Championship.

A file picture of Shiva Keshavan at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.   -  REUTERS

For the first time in many years, India’s flag won’t be flying at the Luge World Championship. Weeks after sharing his upcoming schedule for the year, five-time Winter Olympian, luger Shiva Keshavan had to pull out of the championships and had to let go of his coach, Duncan Kennedy.

Due to lack of financial support, Shiva, who has two gold medals in the Asia Cup, is the first Indian to qualify for the Winter Olympic Games and recently won a silver in the Asian Championship, has been forced to quit.

Shiva has been India’s pride for many years in winter sports. However, the way the Olympian has been forced to reconsider his decisions really puts a black mark on the way how many of the Indian athletes’ professional careers are being handled.

Coach's dues not paid

In an earlier conversation with the Winter Olympian, Shiva had stated that the Government had paid only Rs. 10 lakh for a coach and was yet to pay for any other expenses such as travel, training, boarding and lodging abroad. Speaking about being unable to pay the coach, Shiva said, “It is confusing right now. There is yet no word on his continuation because he is yet to get his due. He is willing to give his expertise for our country, but as a professional he cannot work without being paid.”

Kennedy decided to quit as he has not been paid his full salary in 2015. The former Technical Director of the USA luge team, and 21 World-title holder, Kennedy began working with Shiva in 2014 and strongly believed that the Indian athlete had the potential to bring more laurels to the country.

“I am amazed and surprised at how a country like India cannot come up with money to pay the expenses of a five-time Olympian. Shiva is such a great ambassador for India. His dedication to his country and his sport, his international performance and his conduct have brought India much glory and admiration wherever he has taken the Indian Flag. I already knew some of the difficulties Indian athletes face due to funding, but no professional coach can work without being paid,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy was Shiva’s first and only personal coach. In late 2015, the Sports Ministry had agreed to pay Kennedy his salary, but capped it at one-third the amount leaving Shiva the task of paying for his coach out of his own pocket.

International Federation gets in touch

Two days back, the International Luge Federation had contacted Keshavan. “The Federation has sent a letter to the Sports Minister, asking about how they can pitch in and come up with a plan or programme together, not just for now, but for a longer period. I am myself going to meet the President of the Federation and see what happens next.”

The training week at the Luge World Championships in Germany has already started. However, for Keshavan it is either sustaining his family or opting for the championship.

“The training week has started. The race week starts next week on Monday. It is too much of an expense.”

Government indifference

The Government had promised to re-evaluate the situation post the Asian Championships. However, there has not been any communication from them.

Keshavan won the silver medal at the Asian Championships in December. “After the Asian Championships, I have written to the Government. However, there has not been any reply from them.”

Keshavan has also written to the Sports Minister and the Prime Minister for their personal intervention in the matter.

After withdrawing from the remainder of this winter’s International races, Shiva is planning ahead. At present he has no sponsors either.

“I have approached the Honourable Sports Minister to consider the 20 years of service I have given for my country and my sport. Since there is no recognised Federation, it is up to the Minister’s discretion to make a special case and sanction funds through NSDF (National Sports Development Fund). I am also approaching corporates for support through sponsorships or CSR initiatives”, said Shiva.

At a time when Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is seen promoting the upcoming South Asian Games and spoken about Pakistan’s participation in the Games, the five-time Olympian’s call for support is being ignored. Such a situation really questions the future of other sports in India.