In a huge setback to India’s medal prospects at the Commonwealth Games, shooting has been excluded from the programme for the 2022 edition, it was revealed on Thursday. At the same time, the push to bring cricket back into the fold has gathered momentum, with Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) president Louise Martin suggesting that a mixed-gender Twenty20 event be tried out.
The CGF declared Birmingham as the host city on Thursday after Durban, the original pick, had pulled out earlier this year due to financial constraints. Shooting features on the CGF’s list of optional sports. A candidate city can incorporate up to seven sports from that list in its final programme. Birmingham bid officials have so far chosen to include judo, table tennis, wrestling, gymnastics, diving, cycling and 3v3 basketball, apart from the 10 mandatory sports.
The programme is expected to be finalised by the end of next year, although the chances of shooting being reinstated are bleak despite months of lobbying by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) and a last-minute push by Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
Peter Hannon, spokesperson of Commonwealth Games England, said the organisers were keen to include 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.
“It’s a decision that the Birminghan bid as a whole has made rather than just Commonwealth Games England. The Birmingham bid made an assessment of all the optional sports and they picked the sport which were enabled to take place close to Birmingham,” Hannon told The Indian Express. “We’d like as many people to be a part of the Games but obviously, you are limited on the number of athletes and sport, so that forced some difficult choices.”
Shooting has been contested at every Commonwealth Games since Kingston 1966, with the exception of Edinburgh 1970. The sport 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.
India’s superlative performances in shooting have also propelled the country to the top-five of the medals tally at every Commonwealth Games since 2002.
NRAI president Raninder Singh hoped the decision will be reversed. “Shooting is an important Olympic discipline and the one where India has done very well. We have written to the Indian Olympic Association and the Sports Ministry and made them aware of the situation. The international federation, too, is trying to convince them. Hopefully, they will have a rethink and include shooting,” said Raninder, who is also a member of the ISSF executive committee.
While shooting’s reinstatement remains unlikely, it is learnt that the CGF is keen on having cricket at the Games. While not commenting on the possibility of a mixed-team event, CGF Chief Executive Officer David Grevemberg said they “look forward to suggesting innovative proposals… to include cricket”.
“Cricket is an iconic Commonwealth sport, and the Commonwealth Games Federation would love to partner with the International Cricket Council to incorporate it into the medal events programme of a future Games,” Grevemberg told The Indian Express an emailed statement. “The CGF looks forward to suggesting innovative proposals for how best to include the sport of cricket for the benefit of all communities across the Commonwealth of Nations.”
Although the suggestion to add a mixed-team cricket event has not been discussed formally yet, the Birmingham bid officials are in touch with the England and Wales Cricket Board to study the prospect of having separate men’s and women’s T20 cricket.
There are concerns over the schedule, however, and it is learnt that the ECB has already expressed its reservations since a new city-based league will be launched in 2020. That will make it tough to have a men’s competition but the bid officials are considering the option of having women’s cricket. Cricket last featured in the CWG in the 1998 edition.