MUMBAI (Reuters) - India are convinced they can improve on their Asian Games medals tally from Guangzhou but financial concerns and other controversies off the field may dampen their aspirations for Incheon later this month.
Cricket-obsessed India seldom tastes success in other sports on the world stage but the quadrennial multi-sports event should be the perfect stage for its athletes to gain recognition.
India finished eighth on the medal table at the 2002 and 2006 Asiads and improved to sixth in Guangzhou, bagging 65 medals - their best ever haul.
However, with a population of 1.2 billion, India should be winning a lot more medals.
Buoyed by the results in Guangzhou and the decent showing at the recent Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) proposed a jumbo contingent for the Games in Incheon, west of Seoul.
However, the proposed size of the delegation met resistance form the Sports Authority of India (SAI), which oversees and funds training and participation of athletes.
SAI officials wanted only real medal hopefuls to be on the plane to South Korea and the stalemate eventually needed the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office.
There were other hiccups in India’s build-up to the Incheon Games.
Their boxers, who brought home the second-highest number of medals from Guangzhou four years ago, also face some uncertainty and will get to compete under the national flag only if their infighting-plagued federation hosts its election this week.
The Indian Amateur Boxing Federation was suspended in late 2012 for ‘possible manipulation’ in its elections and was eventually terminated by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) in March this year.
The AIBA subsequently gave provisional approval to a new group called Boxing India which has ignored bickering units and announced fresh elections for Thursday.
“If the elections don’t take place, there is good chances that our boxers can’t participate (under national flag),” Jiji Thomson, director general of the SAI, told reporters.
There is, however, no ambiguity about the fate of Vijender Singh, the poster boy of Indian boxing, who will be unable to defend his Asian Games middleweight title after a hand injury ruled him out.
India’s shooters are in better shape and the SAI expects them to bring home 10-14 medals from the Ongnyeon International Shooting Range, which will host the rifle, pistol and running target events, and the Gyeonggido Shooting Range, which will be the venue for the shotgun events.
India’s hopes of bagging about six medals from the tennis courts might need trimming as their top-ranked singles player, Somdev Devvarman, opted to give the Games a miss to concentrate on his falling world ranking.
Frontline players Leander Paes and Sania Mirza have also been allowed to skip the Games in order to concentrate on the professional tours and try to revive their rankings.
The 29-year-old Devvarman won the singles and men’s doubles gold in Guangzhou as India bagged five medals from tennis.
“It didn’t make sense for my professional career, to step away from the circuit and play,” said Devvarman, who rose to a career-best 62 in singles rankings in July 2011 but has since slipped to 143.
“Stepping away for the Asian Games unfortunately was not going to be a positive impact in my aim to break into the top 100.”
Also missing the Asian Games will be double Olympic medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar, who opted to focus his energy on preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In his absence, the wrestling contingent will be led by his good friend Yogeshwar Dutt, who won a bronze in the London Olympics two years back.
While India also hope to add five to seven medals from rowing in Incheon, they can also depend on their shuttlers to add to the tally.
Despite the presence of the powerful Chinese, the badminton squad, led by London Olympics bronze medallist Saina Nehwal, will hope to cause a few upsets.
India will also be boosted by the presence of P.V. Sindhu, who recently won bronze at the World Badminton Championships, and Commonwealth Games singles gold medal winner Parupalli Kashyap in their squad.
“We won a few (eight) medals in cue sports, chess and roller sports in 2010 and they won’t be there in Incheon,” Thomson said. “Despite that, we are expecting to win anything from 72-100 and improve on our performance four years ago.”
The opening ceremony for the Incheon Asiad will be held on Sept. 19 and the Games close on Oct. 4.
Editing by Peter Rutherford