With exactly three years to go for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the Indian Olympic Association has proposed a complete boycott of the event, scheduled to be held in Birmingham. IOA president Narinder Batra wrote to the sports minister Kiren Rijiju on Friday, in which he informed him of the Olympic body’s intentions and sought a meeting to deliberate on the issue.
The IOA’s unprecedented step came after the organisers dropped shooting from the Games programme in June 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. The Commonwealth Games Federation’s (CGF) executive board instead decided to include women’s cricket, para table tennis and beach volleyball.
In a strongly-worded letter, Batra said through this protest, they want to make the “(sic) CWG understand that India is not prepared to take India-bashing anymore and the people with a particular mindset in CWG need to understand that India got its independence in 1947 and India is not a colony of anyone anymore.”
NRAI president Raninder Singh was the first to float the idea that India should boycott the Games in April 2018. His views were echoed by IOA secretary general Rajiv Mehta last month. In his letter, Batra said the issue has been ‘informally discussed’ by some IOA members, who ‘agree with the views expressed by IOA secretary general.’
In his first media interaction last month, Rijiju had dismissed Mehta’s suggestion. He had said: “If you have to boycott, you have to ask the government because these decisions are not to be taken unilaterally, it has to be done through proper consultation.”
Batra, however, argued that the government has spent money on the preparation for the 2022 CWG and said a fall in medals count would create a false public perception. “(sic) By removing shooting from CWG 2022, the medal ranking of India will go down from 3rd in 2018 may be to anywhere between 5th to 8th in CWG 2022 and total number of medals won in 2018 i.e. 66 will also come down,” he added. “Even though govt, NSFs (National Sport Federations) and IOA will be working hard for CWG 2022 the impression that will go down is of bad performance because overall number of total medals may come down along with the overall ranking based on medals won.”
Shooting has been the source of one-fourth of India’s medals at the Commonwealth Games. Out of the 438 medals India has won at the Games – including 155 gold – 118 have come from shooting. India have won 56 gold, 40 silver and 22 bronze medals in the sport and are second on the all-time medal table behind Australia. At the Gold Coast CWG last year, India topped shooting medals tally, winning a total of 16 medals (7 gold, 4 silver, 5 bronze), seven more than second-placed Australia.
The sport, however, features on the CGF’s list of optional disciplines. A host city can incorporate up to seven sports of its choice from that list in its final programme. It is a standard practice for the hosts to include sports in which they are strong. In 2010, India excluded basketball and triathlon from the programme and added tennis, archery and wrestling. Four years before that, Australia had dropped wrestling.
The decision to drop shooting, however, was primarily because the organisers were keen to include those sports for which Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region had the facilities. The closest Olympic-standard shooting range to Birmingham is in Surrey, roughly 150 miles away.
Britain’s tough gun laws, which makes it very tough for athletes to enter the country with weapons, was also a deterrent. The IOA, however, has cried conspiracy. “(sic) We have been noticing over a period of time that wherever India seems to getting grip of the game and performing well, then somehow we find that either the goalposts are shifted or rules are changed. We feel it is time for us in IOA/India to start asking tough questions and start taking tough positions,” Batra wrote in his letter.
A decision to boycott the Games can be taken by the IOA’s general assembly, which includes heads of other federations, The final decision, if the assembly agrees, is likely be taken after consulting the government to understand the possible the diplomatic fallout of the move.
The IOA is also considering to boycott the CGF Congress in Kigali, Rwanda, in September. It has also withdrawn the candidature of two officials who were contesting the polls for high-ranking posts.