Winter Olympics: With no kit and equipment, 2 of India's 3 athletes face exit

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Two Indian athletes could be forced to pull out of next month's Sochi Olympics because promised state funds for kit and equipment have not been released, India's Winter Games chief said on Tuesday.

Winter Games Federation of India (WGFI) president Surendra Singh Patwal said time was running out for two of India's three competitors who each need about US$7,500 (S$9,500) to take part in the Olympics.

"We are still awaiting funds from the government because we do not have money to buy expensive clothing and equipment," he told AFP.

"Each equipment has to meet Olympic specifications. We do not get them in India, they have to come from abroad. Unless the funds come, we can't even place orders for clothing and equipment.

"Besides, our athletes need time to train with the new equipment and there is hardly any time left. We were due to be in Sochi by Feb 4," he added, with the Games running from Feb 7 to 23.

"We do not get sponsors. So unless the government gives us funds, we may have to withdraw at least two of the three qualifiers."

Funding is the latest blow for the athletes who were earlier this month deprived of competing under the national flag in Sochi.

WGFI secretary Roshan Lal Thakur told AFP that luger Shiva Keshavan, preparing for his fifth Winter Olympics, was safe since he has raised money through sponsors for his equipment.

But the fate of the two other qualifiers, alpine skier Himanshu Thakur and cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal, rested on getting the money in time.

"We have been told the matter is being processed," said Thakur. "I just hope they do it fast."

Sports ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Last week, the athletes lost all hope of competing under the flag in Sochi after the suspended Indian Olympic Association (IOA) insisted on holding elections only two days after the Games open.

The IOA last month bowed to pressure from the International Olympic Committee to keep tainted officials out of key posts - the reason India's membership was frozen in December 2012.

But IOA officials rejected a request from the sports ministry to hold fresh elections earlier, possibly at the end of January, so that the athletes could compete under the national flag.

The IOC has allowed Indian qualifiers to participate at Sochi as "independent athletes under the Olympic flag".

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