Why India Won't Be Competing at Sochi

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Jan. 22 2014 12:17 PM

Why India Won't Be Competing at Sochi

161783278-indias-aanchal-thakur-skis-during-the-first-run-of-the
India's Aanchal Thakur skis during the first run of the women's slalom at the 2013 Ski World Championships in Schladming, Austria, on Feb. 16, 2013.

Photo by Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images

When the athletes march into the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics next month, one flag you won’t be seeing is the green, white, and saffron of India. Four Indian skiers will be participating in the games as independent athletes, but they won’t be able to formally represent their country, since the Indian Olympic Association has been suspended by the International Olympic Committee since 2012.*

The suspension was due to the IOA’s plans to hold an election for its leadership that would have been contested by just one official, who had spent 11 months in custody on corruption charges linked to the scandal-plagued 2010 Commonwealth Games. Frankly, given the reports that have been coming out about the host of this year’s games, the IOC—not a body known for its unimpeachable record on ethics—could probably cut India some slack here.

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India’s absence is unlikely to be felt in a major way in the medal count: The country has never won a Winter Olympic medal. Overall, the world’s second-most-populous country and 10th-largest economy is one of the great underperformers of Olympic history, having taken home just 26 medals in 31 Olympics, fewer than North Korea or Slovakia.

A number of factors may contribute to this, including a lack of sports infrastructure, economic underdevelopment over much of the country’s history, and the fact that it’s always been democratic: Communist countries traditionally overperform at the Olympics. India also can’t help that cricket, overwhelmingly the country’s most popular sport, is not an Olympic event.

Things had seemed to be improving lately: India took home six medals in London, and billionaire Lakshmi Mittal has set up a program to put more money into sports training. But the Olympic suspension is unlikely to help increase the country’s haul in the future, particularly if it lasts through Rio.

*Correction, Jan. 22, 2014: This post originally misstated the year that the International Olympic Committee suspended the Indian Olympic Association. It also misstated the number of Olympics in which India has competed.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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