Canada, Feb.15: The Indian contingent was the easiest to spot during the opening ceremony of 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. More so because of the clothes worn by flag-bearer Shiva Keshavan who marched around the BC Place stadium in Vancouver in a brown overcoat and black trousers, while four others wore grey tracksuits. Shiva’s father, who also participated in the parade, was in off-white pants and a beige blazer.
The mismatched attire was embarrassing enough and soon news of ’donated’ uniforms for Team India hit front pages of international dailies, highlighting the plight of the Indian athletes. "Three-man Indian team gets donated uniform," said CBC, Canadian public broadcaster.
According to media reports, the uniform that had been given to the team for the opening ceremony was of poor quality. A local businessman donated fresh uniforms that the Indian athletes wore at the opening ceremonies at the BC Place.
"We did get some uniforms but they were of horrible quality bordering on disgraceful. On top of that, everyone was not given the same uniform and some were given none altogether. That’s the reason we were not wearing same clothes during the ceremony," said Shiva.
"The Olympics is where we are showing our country’s pride to the world so we need to have a good uniform," he said.
The local Indo-Canadian community decided to rally around Shiva and the two skiers who made up India’s tiny Winter Olympic team.
"My first reaction was, you’re kidding me. They’re from India, the land of clothing, and they have no clothes to wear, but that’s just how it is in Third World countries," said T J Johal, the owner of Sports Unlimited in Surrey.
Four-time Olympian Shiva’s comments in the local media also prompted the Indian diaspora to collect $ 8,000 for the contingent, which ultimately refused the money saying that it would not accept "charity".
This is not the first time that Shiva has been at the receiving end of charitable help. He was recently given money by a group of lawyers in India to get a new luge sled, after they heard his old one held together by duct tape and screws had fallen apart.
In an SMS sent to NDTV, Shiva’s friend said: "The lawyers’ money was a goodwill gesture because it costs at least Rs 50 lakh to train to become a world class athlete. Shiva is among the top in the world with the least available to him."
The government however had a different story to tell. India’s Chef de Mission in Vancouver R K Gupta reportedly said that Shiva was miffed because he wanted his father to march in the opening ceremony and since there was no uniform available for him, Shiva chose to not wear the uniform himself.
Further clarifying its position in the matter, the government provided a statement of the expenditure on each athlete, refuting all claims that members of the team were not provided adequate financial help.
From bearing the expenses of their ceremonial clothing to daily allowances of USD 50 per day, the sports ministry said it has spent around Rs 7.4 lakh on the eight-member Indian contingent at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.