The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) wants to skip the 2022 Commonwealth Games. On Thursday, the top brass of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) met the sports ministry and IOA officials to talk them out of the boycott calls but after day-long meetings, but failed to convince them.
The IOA’s unprecedented step came after the organisers of the 2022 CWG, which will be held in Birmingham, dropped shooting from the programme in June. Instead, they have included women’s cricket, para table tennis and beach volleyball.
The decision to drop shooting was taken primarily because the organisers were keen to include those sports for which Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region had the facilities. Britain’s tough gun laws, which makes it very tough for athletes to enter the country with weapons, were a deterrent as well.
It is also a fact that shooting features on the CGF’s optional sport list. There are several sports in the ‘optional’ category and it is a standard practice for the hosts to choose sports in which they are strong. For example, in 2010, India excluded basketball and triathlon from the programme and added tennis, archery and wrestling. Four years before that, Australia had dropped wrestling.
But India did not accept this logic. Shooting has been the source of one-fourth of India’s medals at the Commonwealth Games. It has been argued that removal of shooting will see a steep fall in India’s position on the overall medal’s tally. So, in April 2018, the National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh was the first to float the idea that the country should boycott the Games when there was talk of shooting being axed.
Raninder’s views were echoed by IOA secretary general Rajiv Mehta last month. Since then, the proposal has picked momentum, with IOA president Narinder Batra even suggesting that India should consider a complete withdrawal from the CWG – not just the 2022 edition, but also the ones that will follow. He claimed they are not ‘competitive enough’ and that Asian Games, which are held soon after the CWG, are more important for India as it provides opportunities for some to qualify for the Olympics.
If India actually withdraws from the Games, athletes will be the ones most affected. Not only will they be robbed of competing in a major international event, they will miss out on other incentives as well. Athletes winning medals at the CWG receive hefty prize money, with centre earmarking Rs 30 lakh for gold medalists, Rs 20 lakh for silver winners and Rs 10 lakh for bronze medalists. The state governments offer separate prize money while employers like Railways, oil companies and state police departments offer cash incentives and/or promotions to the medal winners.
Most athletes have rejected the idea to boycott the Games. But their fate lies in the hands of the Olympic bosses, who are likely to take a final call on the issue next month.
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