Indian federations back CWG boycott threat, Abhinav Bindra critical
IOA treasurer Anandeshwar Pandey insisted the move was not a “decision in haste” and the body was hopeful of “getting a positive result”.Updated: Jul 29, 2019 14:08 IST
The controversy over shooting being excluded from the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games that has simmered for some time threatens to boil over with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) having sought the sports ministry’s clearance for its call for a games boycott in protest.
The ministry’s response was awaited on Sunday but the shooting federation as well as many other national sports bodies whose athletes would be affected backed the apex sports body though India’s only individual Olympic champion, Abhinav Bindra, was dismissive of IOA’s tactics.
IOA president Narinder Batra sent a letter to sports minister Kiren Rijiju on Saturday on the pullout. Its secretary-general, Rajiv Mehta, said: “It’s really a tough time as all other sports are getting affected by our decision; but IOA has no other option. We have to stand up for our shooters. They have been doing really well for the last many years and always help India maintain their dominance at the CWG. It is a conspiracy to lower India’s prestige as a sporting nation.”
‘INDIA BIG STAKEHOLDER’
IOA treasurer Anandeshwar Pandey insisted the move was not a “decision in haste” and the body was hopeful of “getting a positive result” though it remains to be seen how the British games organisers or the Commonwealth Games Federation (CWG) respond with the boycott stand gets the government’s approval.
However, IOA has received strong backing from other federations. Boxing Federation of India (BFI) executive director, RK Sacheti, said: “We will go by whatever decision is taken by IOA. We’ve agreed there should be a strong opposition presented by India. India is a major stakeholder in the Commonwealth and you cannot ignore us. CWG is a major multi-sport event, yes, and it will be a loss in terms of opportunities to athletes. We will chalk out some other roadmap for our athletes.”
Table Tennis Federation of India secretary-general, MP Singh, said, “The interest of the country comes first, over and above individual interests. This is not about an individual sport. It’s an issue affecting the whole nation.”
Hockey India president Mushtaq Ahmad said skipping the CWG “I don’t think is a missed opportunity for them (hockey players).” Sahdev Yadav, secretary-general, Indian Weightlifting Federation, said: “My weightlifters had won five gold medals in Gold Coast (2018). We may win 10 medals in Birmingham. But if IOA decides to boycott, we will support it.”
Birmingham organisers recently promised to reach out to India. “As organisers of the games we do want every nation eligible to compete to take part,” 2022 Birmingham CEO Ian Reid was quoted as saying by the insidethegames.com website recently. “We know the CGF is hoping to meet with the IOA soon, to discuss their concerns, and we hope this meeting goes well.”
“We are naturally disappointed that our colleagues in India have chosen not to join the other Commonwealth nations and territories in Rwanda for the general assembly (Sept 3-5). We absolutely want India to participate wholeheartedly in Birmingham.”
CGF’s British president Louise Martin claimed shooting could have been retained if the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) had accepted a proposal to include only small bore rifle and pistol events. A temporary venue could then have been built to stage those events in Birmingham. She said ISSF however insisted on holding all four events contested at 2018 Gold Coast— full bore, pistol, rifle and shotgun—at the Shooting Centre in Bisley, 130 miles from Birmingham.
During the 2010 Delhi games, CGF had forced India to stage the full bore event for which a new range had to be built at Kadarpur, near Gurgaon.
India’s concerns arise because shooting is the biggest medal grosser since the 2002 Manchester edition. The country’s success opened a new chapter in shooting’s history in CWG, since it was introduced at Kingston, Jamaica in 1966.
Though shooting was seen integral to the games, it is still listed as an ‘optional’ sport in CWG. Indian officials though seem to suspect that removing shooting is a bid to snip India’s medals tally. It was second in medals haul, behind only Australia, at the 2010 New Delhi Games due to the success of shooters. Mehta says excluding the sport is against the ethics of the games, though the hosts have the right to choose an “optional” sport.
Trend not new
Games organisers picking disciplines, even obscure ones, to ramp up medals tally is not new. Pencak Silat—martial arts—for example was included in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games where the hosts won 14 of the 16 gold offered in the event. It helped Indonesia finish ahead of India only for the third time, with the gold count of the hosts more than double. And IOA didn’t protest when Indonesia curtailed the shooting events.
India’s protests were also feeble when cue sports and chess were removed in the last two Asian Games. This raises questions whether IOA’s threat would bear fruit, and whether the sports ministry will give its backing as the repercussions of a boycott could be serious.
Pistol shooter Vijay Kumar, the 2012 London Olympics silver medallist, gave a ringing endorsement of IOA’s stand. “All those disciplines that are in the Olympics should also be given privilege in the CWG, and shooting is an integral part of Olympics. Only non-Olympic disciplines should be on the optional list. The IOA stand will make CGF realise they are doing something wrong. The highest level in sports hierarchy is the Olympics and if you don’t focus on it then what is the use? It (boycott) is a good step.”
Suma Shirur, one of India’s top rifle shooters and winner of three 10m rifle medals at the CWG, including a ‘pairs’ gold in 2002, says, “It is shocking that the entire shooting programme is being left out. It is the debut platform for our shooter to gain world attention and know what pressure means before they move to bigger competitions like the Asian Games. Shooting is one of the early sports in Olympics and shouldn’t have been excluded.”
However, others were not too sure boycott was the right route to take with India’s most famous Olympic athlete in the forefront.
Abhinav Bindra tweeted, “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.”
Rio Olympics wrestling bronze medallist Sakshi Malik said: “We train throughout the year to win medals and earn something for ourselves. If there is no Indian participation, it would affect Indian sports, especially in other disciplines. (But) I will stand behind IOA.”
Badminton ace Jwala Gutta also opposed a blanket ban. “The ministry has to really think about the pros and cons because every athlete is working really hard for the Olympics and Commonwealth Games… Yes, the shooters will be denied, which is sad and not good for the country’s morale, but boycotting the whole Games will be a little too drastic. The decision should be fair to other sportspersons as well.
“During the Delhi CWG we had included a lot of other sports (archery and tennis) where India got medals. That’s why we finished second in the medals tally. So when we could include other games for our benefit, now that they (Birmingham organisers) don’t want to include for their benefit, how can you say that is right or wrong? We should probably attend the (CWG General Assembly in Rwanda from Sept 3-5) meeting and try and set some rules. We need to put our stand in front of them and stand by what we believe in.”
Ajit Pal Singh, captain of hockey team that won the 1975 World Cup — the only time India won the event — said, “As a sportsman, I say we should participate. Not participating will not leave a good impression. Boycott karne se kuch faeda hoga? (Will there be any benefit out of boycotting the games?) It’s a tricky situation at the moment. Let’s give them time to sort this out because the IOA is a party and in case India lose medals, they will be answerable to the nation.”