Claiming that they are no longer relevant, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra has called for the country to withdraw altogether from the Commonwealth Games rather than boycotting a one-off edition. Batra added that India should instead focus on taking part in international events where the level of competition is high to improve its standing at the Olympics.
Batra said he will put up this proposal at the IOA executive board meeting, which is likely to be held next month. If the members approve, the Olympic body will take it up with the government and subsequently the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president, when she visits the country in November.
“These Games have no standard. For me, these are a waste of time and money. We win 70 medals, 100 medals at the Commonwealth Games while at the Olympics, we get stuck at two (medals),” Batra told The Indian Express, referring to India’s tally in Rio. “That means the level of competition isn’t high at CWG. It’s not a ranking tournament either. So why waste time? We should rather go to better competitions and prepare for the Olympics.”
In July, the IOA took an unprecedented step and proposed a complete boycott of the 2022 CWG in Birmingham after the organisers dropped shooting from the programme despite months of lobbying by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) as well as former sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. CGF president Louise Martin is likely to visit New Delhi on November 14 to meet IOA officials as well as sports minister Kiren Rijiju.
Batra said he wasn’t in favour of boycotting a standalone edition of the Games. “I’m not in favour of the boycott. In sports, you never use the word boycott. My fundamental principle is either we withdraw permanently or go and compete,” Batra said. “We will have an internal discussion in IOA before the meeting (with CGF) on November 14. I’ll put up this suggestion in the IOA meeting and see if there is a consensus. We’ll have political decisions as well.”
The government has so far resisted the calls from the IOA and NRAI to boycott the Birmingham Games, saying such decisions cannot be taken unilaterally. But Batra insisted participating in the CWG does not benefit Indian athletes given the competition level isn’t ‘high enough’. “The entire Middle East does not compete in CWG. The USA doesn’t either. Ultimately, IOA will vote for it. As a sports administrator, it is my duty to make sure India has a strong team for the 2024, 2028, 2032 Olympics. We won’t achieve that by competing at the CWG,” he said.
India have won 101, 64 and 66 medals in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions of the CWG respectively. Athletes winning medals at these Games receive hefty prize money, with centre earmarking `30 lakh for gold medalists, `20 lakh for silver winners and `10 lakh for bronze medalists. The state governments offer separate prize money while employers like Railways, oil companies and state police department offer cash incentives and/or promotions to the medal winners.
Batra acknowledged his suggestions may not go down with the athletes. “Athletes may hate me for it because they get prize money for these Games. I will request the government to divide this prize money in different tournaments of better level,,” Batra said. “If it is not a good competition then why should we go?”
The IOA chief added the Commonwealth body has been ‘undermining’ India and the country is not adequately represented in its bodies ‘despite being their largest partners, population wise.’ “Yet, they don’t consider us seriously. There are 13 committees and there isn’t one Indian in them. There is no Indian in the executive board. Why are we in the system? It’s a colonial thing.”