The last 12 hours in the run-up to the ISSF Shooting World Cup in New Delhi have been dramatic.
First, the international shooting federation president Vladimir Lisin announced at the opening ceremony that all the 16 Olympic quotas on offer in the competition were withdrawn due to the Indian government’s decision to deny visas to the three-member Pakistan contingent in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack where 40 CRPF personnel were killed.
But later, the International Olympic Council clarified that only two quota places in the 25m Rapid Fire event, in which two Pakistani shooters were participating will have to be reassigned.
India were lucky that IOC did not scrap the tournament’s status as an Olympic qualifier as it did in the case of the Asian Shooting Championship in 2015 when Kuwait denied visa entry to a technical official from Israel.
But the IOC statement did speak of bringing bigger sanctions against India unless the government gives a written guarantee that no players would be denied visa for major international events.
“Until clear written guarantees are obtained from the Indian government to ensure the entry of all participants in such events in full compliance with the rules of the Olympic Charter – and to recommend that the IFs neither award to nor hold sports events in India until the above-mentioned guarantees are obtained,” it said in a statement.
As of now, India is scheduled to host the 2021 men’s world boxing championship, Hockey India has bid for hosting the men’s or women’s world cup in 2023 and has been regularly hosting Badminton World Federation’s World Tour events, and many international International Tennis Federation as well as two ATP and WTA Tour events.
The world boxing federation, AIBA, has already announced that it would reconsider India’s hosting rights for the 2021 world championship after the government denied visa to Kosovo boxer Donjeta Sadiku for the women’s world championship last year since India does not recognise the country as an independent nation.
One can understand that the Indian government needed to send a strong message to Pakistan and denying visa to the shooting contingent is just a part of the various measures it has taken.
Even the Indian Cricket Board, which has time and again insisted that it has no problem playing a bilateral series against Pakistan subject to government clearance, has reportedly been considering putting pressure on International Cricket Council to ban the neighbours from the World Cup in May or pulling out from their group game against the former champions.
In the case of Pakistan’s world cup contingent, the National Rifle Association of India had earlier insisted that the Home Ministry had cleared the visa request only for the decision to be overturned later.
Ironically, the Indian government hasn’t made any official comment on the entire issue and therein lies the real problem for Indian sports.
Over the years, India has been selective in granting visas to Pakistani sportspersons depending on the political situation and the level of the events being held in India. While Pakistan wrestlers could not participate in the Asian Championship in 2017, their junior wrestlers competed in the Asian Junior meet last year, and so did the squash players in the World Junior Squash Championship in Chennai.
But even the organisers of these events suffered due to the uncertainty over whether the Pakistan players will be granted visas till the last minute and their international federation’s threatening to impose sanctions.
These uncertainties also affect the participating players as the preparation of the Indian teams also gets affected due to these uncertainties. Even though most of the Indian shooters put up a brave front at the Karni Singh shooting range while all the confusion was playing out on Thursday, their anxiety over how things would pan out was clearly visible.
So, should India stop having any sporting ties with Pakistan and not play against the neighbours on any platform, as some of the federations and players are suggesting, or take the risk of not hosting any international events for the foreseeable future by not granting visa to any Pakistani sportsperson?
It is not uncommon in sports world for a nation to totally boycott another country, like in the case of Arab League’s boycott of Israel, provided they are willing to face the consequences. But it is clearly not a decision for the federations and players to make.
And this is where the government’s ambiguity is going to hurt the players. Bilateral sporting ties between the two nations have been suspended for quite some time now but India is scheduled to play a Davis Cup Group 1 tie against Pakistan in Islamabad later in the year. The 2020 South Asian Football Federations Championship is also to be held there.
If the government really thinks that severing sporting ties with Pakistan on all forums is the way forward, then it has to take a clear stand after due consultations with all the stakeholders and even the opposition parties so that such decisions are not based on whims and fancies of the party in power.
India’s sportspersons definitely deserve this much clarity from the government. And if the government cannot really reach a consensus on this matter, it is better to leave sports alone and like Sunil Gavaskar said, let the sportspersons take the responsibility of beating their counterparts on the field of play.