Birmingham 2022: Taking stock of India’s medal expectations

Published on Jul 29, 2022 10:13 PM IST

India’s run-up to the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG), being held in Birmingham from July 28 to August 8, has been slightly tumultuous

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ByPayoja Ahluwalia

India’s run-up to the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG), being held in Birmingham from July 28 to August 8, has been slightly tumultuous. Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, one of the two flag bearers of this year’s squad and a gold medal favourite, pulled out at the last minute due to injury. While hockey team captain Manpreet Singh replaced Chopra and carried the flag with shuttler PV Sindhu, the absence of Chopra is the latest blow for an Indian squad that has been on the ascent at the CWG.

A bigger blow for India, however, came even before the games, when Birmingham decided not to include shooting as a sport — the first time this is happening since 1974. At a time when India was slowly improving in global sporting competitions, this development is likely to heavily dent the country’s CWG medal tally, given that about one-fourth of India’s medals in the 2018 games were in shooting. Here are four charts that look at how India’s medal expectations play out in CWG 2022.

India at CWG: A story of steady improvement

The first edition of the CWG was held in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada. In all, 86 nations have ever participated in these games, which are typically held every four years and principally comprise countries that were once territories of the British Empire. Of these, only 13 nations have won more than 100 medals. India is one of them, with 502 medals. While Australia leads with a 21% share of total medals won, India ranks fifth, with a 5% share.

India, however, wasn’t always at the top end. It started slow, averaging a rank of 13 till the 1950s. It’s a measure of how far India has come in sporting prowess that in each of the last five Commonwealth Games, dating back to 2002, India has always ranked in the top 4 in terms of total medals won.

[Chart 1]

More Indians getting on podiums

In 2010, when New Delhi hosted CWG, India benefitted from the bump that host countries tend to get. It finished third by total medals (101) and second by golds (39). Shooting was the biggest contributor, accounting for a quarter of India’s medals. This count should also be seen in the context of participants. In New Delhi, India had a squad size of 619 — about two to three times what it has had since — and the medals when seen as a proportion of the squad size was about 16%.

In Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018, despite winning fewer medals, a smaller squad meant this ratio was about 30%. Notably, Indian medal prospects have been good at getting gold. The share of golds in the Indian medal count in four of the last five games has ranged between 39% and 45%. The exception to this was Glasgow 2014, when this fell to 23%. Since 2002, India has always stood in the top five by gold medals.

[Chart 2]

Pressure on wrestling to step up

But the absence of shooting in the schedule might threaten this record. Traditionally, India majorly won its CWG medals in wrestling, weightlifting, boxing and badminton. In recent years, shooting overtook them all. Across all games, Indian shooters have won a total of 130 medals. In the last three editions, they have accounted for 63 of the 231 medals — or 27%. This is what India will be missing at Birmingham and a notable narrative will be to see how other sports fill this hole.

More recently, wrestling has become India’s second-most prolific sport at the CWG, with a total of 44 medals in the last three outings. Even this year, all 12 Indian wrestlers, including two-time gold winners Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia, are tipped to finish on the podium. In fact, since 1990, Indians have set or broken CWG records in only two sports: shooting and weightlifting.

[Chart 3]

Most multiple gold winners are shooters

Indian shooters have been prolific on another count: winning multiple medals, especially golds. Of the 162 sportspersons that have won CWG golds for India, only seven have won three golds times or more. As many as six of these seven are shooters (led by Jaspal Rana and Gagan Narang). The exception in this list is weightlifter Kunjarani Devi, who is also one of the two Indian women sportspersons in this illustrious list.

[Chart 4]

The path ahead for shooting, along with wrestling and archery, at CWG does not look bright. These three sports have all failed to make the initial cut of sports chosen for the 2026 Commonwealth Games to be held in Victoria, Australia. In 2022, it will be interesting to see how India overcomes this handicap of not having its best sport featured.

Payoja Ahluwalia is a Hindustan Times-How India Lives data journalist fellow

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