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Why India does not have an Olympic Equestrian team?

A total of 43 nations will compete in the Olympic equestrian events at Rio but there is no sign of India in the Olympic equestrian events despite the fact that India has a rich heritage of equestrian Sport. Evidence of horse games and equestrian activities has been found in inscription, carving and coins excavated in Mohanjodaro and Harappa. During the vedic period (2500 BC – 600 BC) a form of chariot racing was one of the most popular game and this continued into Ramayana period when hunting became a royal sport. India has an old equestrian tradition. Indeed, the 61st Cavalry is believed to be the world’s largest remaining non-ceremonial horse-mounted cavalry in the world and we have some exceptional riding talent. Why aren’t we showing them off at the Olympics?

India have done well at the Asian games, having won a bronze medal in the 2002 and 2006 editions. Indian equestrian team was barred from Asian Games in 2010 despite their spirited performance in the qualifiers. In 2010 the team horses tested positive in the dope test and hence they were barred from participating in the event. As per the reports of Mail Today, the EFI never followed proper quarantine protocol, as a result of which two horses were removed. Given the heartburn and jealousy among the riders, an unofficial decision was taken not to send any member of the team to the Asian Games.

Indian National champion in dressage, Mrityunjay S Rahtore was denied a chance to compete in the London Olympics. Not because he failed to qualify for the Games; that would have been a fair, if hard, pill to swallow. The most unfortunate thing was that the National champion didn’t even got a chance to participate in a single qualifying event, despite owning one of the best line-up of horses in India. In an interview Rathore had told Forbes India that “Indian quarantine regulations do not allow Olympic qualifiers to be held here; in fact, there isn’t a single qualifier held anywhere in Asia. Competing in the qualifiers in Europe is an option, but their quarantine rules make transporting horses time-consuming and expensive and we don’t have the money,”

The twin issues of quarantine laws and inadequate budgets have tied down Indian equestrian sports for years now, directly impacting representation at major events. In fact, no horseman has worn the national colours in the Olympics since 2000, when a solitary equestrian flew the India flag.

Part of the reason is the continuing international perception of India as a “disease-prone” country. Consequently, no major equestrian sport-playing country—mostly Western European nations (including the UK), Australia, New Zealand and some countries in South America—is likely to be keen to sign a treaty with India that acknowledges parity in conditions and recognizes testing systems, thereby cutting down quarantine periods for horses transported between the countries to a week or 10 days.

Without such a treaty, the shortest route for an Indian equestrian headed to the UK is a complicated one: He would need to fly his horse to Malaysia—its equestrian treaty with the UK makes the South-East Asian country the most preferred stop for any horse on its way from India to Europe—quarantine it there for two months and then fly out to the Venue for a further week of quarantine.

The cost of such travel, say sports officials and sportsmen, runs into “crores of rupees”. While the Indian government has no issues financing the national team’s trips to the Asian Games, it is unwilling to do so for the Olympics. “The government doesn’t consider equestrian events a medal possibility,” explains a senior official of the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI).

The equestrian sports do not get the kind of sponsors and media attention that a select few sports in the nation get. Youngsters are also reluctant to take up these sports as a profession as there’s always the chance of not being able to reach the international level due to the lack of infrastructure and support from the government.