New Delhi, July 2: Just 25 days to go and the Indian Olympic Association is yet to decide who will carry the Indian flag at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.
The custom has been to accord the privilege to the most accomplished — and with India back among the medals since 1996, the job has been going to one of the podium finishers.
This time there are four contenders — the most since the hockey team stopped winning — but each comes with a rider attached.
Boxer Vijender Singh, wrestler Sushil Kumar and shooter Abhinav Bindra won medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics while Leander Paes bagged a tennis bronze at Atlanta in 1996. Paes has been the flag-bearer once before: in 2000 at Sydney.
The matter came up at a recent Indian Olympic Association (IOA) meeting but no decision was taken. “We are looking at all the options and will decide soon,” acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra said.
The IOA’s problem is that both Vijender and Abhinav have events close to the July 27 opening ceremony.
The first-round bouts for the 75kg category in boxing are scheduled for July 28 and 29, and the draw that will reveal whether Vijender competes on July 28 or 29 is to be held on the opening day itself. Bindra’s 10m air rifle event is scheduled on July 29.
Both have informally conveyed to the IOA that they are not too keen to be the flag-bearer, a senior association official said. “They do not want to take the risk. Holding up the flag can make their shoulders sore and leave them ill-prepared for the competition.”
The wrestling competition starts in August, and the grapplers’ team is scheduled to reach London only on August 2. Sushil is training with his team-mates in Belarus.
“Sushil is not too keen to participate in the opening ceremony.... It will mean travelling to and fro between Belarus and London,” the official said.
So, Paes is the only one without a date problem. However, the association is not too enthusiastic about him. Although Paes has confirmed his participation, the IOA is jittery.
“Besides, he has already had the privilege once; we want to give others a chance too,” the official said. Efforts are on to persuade one of the other three.
Among those who will need no persuasion to be at the opening ceremony are India’s VIPs, who are scrambling for plane and stadium tickets as the Games draw near.
Already eight chief ministers, including three from the Northeast, have placed demands before the IOA but the association says it doesn’t have enough tickets to offer them.
“We have told them they can contact the official travel agent, Thomas Cook,” the official said.
A contingent of 160 officials had gone to the Beijing Olympics but this time, both the association and the sports ministry plan to be stricter.
Barring sports minister Ajay Maken and two officials, the ministry is not sending any babus. Instead, it has decided to send eight former international athletes, including P.T. Usha and Rajyavardhan Rathore. The association has asked its 14 affiliated federations to send just one official each.