Private funding fuels India’s Beijing dream

BEIJING, August 6, 2008 (AFP) – A globe-trotting steel billionaire and two former world champions have ensured India’s sportsmen will not cite lack of funds as an excuse if they fail at the Olympics. In a country where fortune and fame is reserved mainly for cricketers, Olympic hopefuls have blamed the absence of world class training facilities and monetary benefits for their poor perforance.

But two separate initiatives, one by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal and the other a joint effort by former All-England badminton champion Prakash Padukone and billiards great Geet Sethi, will break new ground at Beijing.

Mittal, whom Forbes lists as the fourth richest man in the world with a personal fortune of 45 billion dollars, kickstarted the campaign in 2005 to ensure a brighter future for India’s Olympic sportspersons.

Disappointed at India’s lone medal at the Athens Games, the industrialist put aside 10 million dollars to promote sporting excellence in the country through the Mittal Champions Trust.

Mittal hoped at least 10 of the Trust’s 32 beneficiaries would qualify for Beijing.

Three years on, 13 have made the grade with a promise they are not at the Olympics just to make up th