NEW DELHI: Last month, the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) recommended the inclusion of three new sports to its programme for the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) in Birmingham, and one of the sports on which the axe fell consequently was shooting. The decision irked the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), which has now threatened to pull out of the Games, since shooting is a sport in which India traditionally does very well at the Commonwealth Games.
India has been consistently doing well in shooting over the years at the CWG, and its exclusion would understandably be a big blow to the country’s medal hopes at the 2022 Games. In the last edition in the Gold Coast in 2018, 16 of India’s 66 medals were won by the shooters, which is almost 25 percent in terms of contribution from the sport towards the total medal haul.
But there’s a flip side to IOA’s pull-out decision, if it were to result in an actual boycott.
From allocation of training budgets to securing jobs for a livelihood, for athletes in India, a lot hinges on winning international medals; and the CWG provides a big stage to just that, not just for shooters, but for athletes from across sports.
It’s definitely a shock to see shooting, which has been part of the CWG since 1966 (except 1970 Games), on the chopping block; but the question doing the rounds is: If India does boycott the Games, how fair will the pull-out decision be on other sports and its athletes?
Besides the aspiration to win medals, what message would it send across to a sport like archery, for example, which was part of the 2010 Delhi Games but kept out from Glasgow (2014) and the Gold Coast (2018) Games. It didn’t result in any opposition from the IOA then, despite India winning eight medals, including three gold, in the 2010 edition.
Timesofindia.com spoke to athletes across sports to gauge their sentiment about the proposed boycott and what they feel should be the way forward.
ACHANTA SHARATH KAMAL (TABLE TENNIS)
“First thing is, I think, the IOA is making a decision on behalf of all the sports. It’s going to be hard if the IOA is going to boycott for other sports also. But then that’s a stand it wants to take with regards to shooting. If they are deciding that, I don’t think we have an option.”
“But on the other side, CWG is the biggest opportunity where India can win a lot of medals, especially after the CWG Championships, where we (table tennis) won all the gold medals. India is becoming a strong TT nation at the CWG. At this moment, winning an Olympic medal is difficult. I would not say it is impossible, but it’s difficult. So these Games (CWG) give us a lot of confidence.”
“I don’t know if it’s fair or unfair, but the IOA wants to take a stand because shooting is a very important sport for India, we win a lot of medals in it. So if they are going to take this stand, then, of course, we have to support them. But for table tennis, we will lose an opportunity where we can win medals for the country. It (CWG) is quite important for TT.”
“I think it’s going to be a very hard decision because for a lot of sports, budgets and all are dependent on these medals. When we did well in the 2018 CWG, our budget increased. The government support was more. So those things could take a big hit. So I hope there is another option than the whole contingent boycotting because there’s a lot at stake.”
AMIT PANGHAL (BOXING)
“It (CWG) is important but we will do as our sports department decides. Shooting has done so well for India. So according to me, it will only be right to take a stand and push for its inclusion. But still I hope we won’t withdraw because they (IOA) will be considerate towards all athletes across sports.”
RAJAT CHAUHAN (ARCHERY)
“Since 2010, archery hasn’t been part of any Commonwealth Games, neither in 2014 nor in 2018. Nobody thought of withdrawing then. You have to think about India at the end of the day. Do we not win medals in other sports? So we should participate (in the 2022 Games). We have good athletes in other sports as well. Our hockey team is good, for example, so are the wrestlers, weightlifters and others. So if you are doing this (withdrawing) just for shooting, it’s wrong.”
“We won medals in archery in 2010. Deepika was the golden girl, Rahul Banerjee won gold. Even in compound event we won team medals in both men’s and women. But nobody fought for archery when it was excluded in 2014. Where was the Indian Olympic Association then?”
“Winning medals at CWG develops confidence of players. It results in getting jobs, cash awards. Such a decision (to withdraw) will be a setback for other sports. I am totally against it.”
ABHINAV BINDRA (SHOOTING)
Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra expressed his opinion on this on Twitter.
“While I am unaware of details, my personal opinion is as follows,” India’s former ace rifle shooter and till date the country’s only individual Olympic gold medallist wrote on Twitter.
“Boycotts don’t win you influence. They just make you irrelevant and punish other athletes. Would be far better if IOA did a campaign to load the CWG committees with their people and allies and push for the inclusion of shooting onto the core list of sports for the future,” Bindra mentioned in his subsequent Tweet.
HARENDRA SINGH (FORMER INDIA COACH, HOCKEY)
“I would go a couple of steps ahead of the IOA and say that why should I play the CWG every four years to remind myself that the Britishers once ruled my country. If you see, barring hockey and a few other disciplines, top athletes don’t participate in the CWG, except those from the host nation. I am totally against playing at the CWG with the name Commonwealth.”
“So I totally agree with Mr Narinder Batra-led IOA’s stand and extend my full support to it. We should boycott the Games. Today they are doing this with shooting, tomorrow it may be table tennis and so on.”
DUTEE CHAND (ATHLETICS)
“We represent the country. So if the country is not going, we also won’t go. We will do as the government decides. I can’t say anything about this (potential missed opportunity for other sports). What I can say as an athlete is that wherever the government decides to send me, I will go. Like at the border, government deputes soldiers. It’s the same when it comes to representing the country in sports.”
The potential boycott is being hotly debated on most platforms. In a Timesofindia.com poll, asking people if they support the IOA chief’s proposal that India should boycott the 2022 Games because of the exclusion of shooting, 54 percent have so far voted saying yes, while 46 percent of the people who have voted say no.
The IOA meanwhile has pulled out of the CGF General Assembly in Rwanda in September in protest. In addition, the IOA has also withdrawn the nomination of its Secretary General Rajeev Mehta and Namdev Shiragaonkar for the election of regional vice-president and Sports Committee member, respectively.