In from the cold: India has been officially excluded from the Sochi Winter Olympic Games but four of its athletes will still compete


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The Independent Online

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.

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 programme 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. Regardless of what happens in 2016, though, India's all-male Sochi hopefuls are competing against the odds, so should you wish to cheer them on, allow us to introduce them...

Snow down: Hira Lal competes in Turin (Getty Images)

Name: Shiva Keshavan
Category: Luge
Age: 32
Home: Manali, Himachal Pradesh
Career highlights: Representing India internationally as Luge pilot since 1997; youngest-ever luge at the Olympics (in the men's category as a 16-year-old) and sole Indian representative at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan where he came 28th; only Indian competitor at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, USA, where he placed 33rd; 25th in 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, and 31st (first run) and 28th (second run) at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada

Name: Himanshu Thakur
Category: Alpine skiing
Age: 20
Home: Manali, Himachal Pradesh (he will be competing against his elder cousin Hira Lal, below, in the event)
Career highlights: FIS World Ski Championships starts (2)

Name: Hira Lal
Category: Alpine skiing
Age: 33
Home: Manali, Himachal Pradesh
Career highlights: Olympic Games starts (1)

Name: Nadeem Iqbal
Cross-country skiing
Age: 30
Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir
Career highlights: FIS World Ski Championships starts (1)

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