A couple of months back, Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra had called for a complete withdrawal from the Commonwealth Games as he felt it a ‘waste of time and money’.
On Thursday, after a meeting with Commonwealth Games Federation president Louise Martin and Chief Executive Officer David Grevemberg, Batra said that the while the talks were ‘fruitful’, the threat of withdrawal still remains. Amid all the threats, however, IOA general secretary Rajeev Mehta said that India is ready to host the 2026 edition of the Games given the government is ready as well.
“We are willing to host 2026 CWG,” Mehta said. “We will first take approval from the executive board and general assembly of IOA. Then we will approach government.”
The contradictory statements of the president and the general secretary have created further confusion about India’s stand on the issue which began with the removal of shooting from the 2022 Commonwealth Games to be held in Birmingham.
Batra and Mehtra were not the only ones to be on different pages. IOA and CGF, the two sporting bodies tasked with finding a solution to this impasse, also failed to come up with any real solution to the exclusion of shooting at the 2022 Games.
Grevemberg said that shooting was always an optional sport to begin with.
“Do we have a solution right now? No. We don’t want to make false promises,” he said. “Shooting was an optional sport and Commonwealth countries agreed to it in a democratic process.”
“We did not have preconceived notions. We kept stating the facts. We are here to openly listen and learn what were the concerns. What we are committing to is to work together to address those concerns leading to 2022 and beyond. The organisers are one party and they made decisions in their interests.”
A panel comprising representatives from local and national governments, as well as Birmingham 2022’s organising committee and Commonwealth England, was set up to assess the case of shooting, archery, beach volleyball, cricket and para table tennis.
Only three of those – beach volleyball, para table tennis and women’s cricket – were included to be part of the game.
The decision to drop shooting has been met with criticism from India ever since and prompted Batra to write to CGF for a proposed boycott.
CGF president Martin said that they were disappointed that some countries did not approve of the decision after it was unanimously decided to drop shooting.
“It was a democracy at general assembly and it was unanimous [decision to drop shooting],” she said. “We are working with everybody and these things are never static. It’s an evolving process.”
Easing of stance?
Along with India, member countries Australia and Bangladesh also expressed their concern over dropping the sport. But after Thursday meetings, the IOA seems to have softened its stand.
“The term boycott I had used was not appropriate,” Batra said. “It should have been withdrawal (and) the proposal of withdrawal from 2022 CWG still stands. It was a successful and fruitful meeting [with the CGF delegation]. We made the proposal nearly six months back. Now, we will take into consideration the discussions and go back to our executive committee and general assembly and take a decision.”
Batra also said that they proposed to include the medal count of Commonwealth Shooting Championships, to be held around the Birmingham Games, in the medal tally of the 2022 CWG.
CGF, however, gave no commitment on that and is unlikely to go ahead with it.
Despite the discussions, it is yet to be determined if shooting will return to the Commonwealth Games after the 2022 Games.
Other concerns which Batra expressed were the gap between Commonwealth and Asian Games and whether shooting can return after the 2022 Games.
“Exclusion of shooting was the main concern,” he said. “We discussed how to bring this back for 2026 and 2030 editions by making it a core sport. Another concern was gap between the two Games which is just 32 days. How will the athlete peak twice inside a month? We need to win medals and for that we need them to peak at the right time.”
The review meeting to include any sport in the program will be held in two years and CGF will once again call 71 Commonwealth countries to decide which sporting events need to be excluded.
Sports minister Kiren Rijiju, who also met the CGF delegation, said that the meeting was a good start.
“We understand that shooting is an optional sport at the Commonwealth Games, but we had expressed our concern on the sport being excluded and the issue has been well received by the CGF president,” Rijiju said.
While both IOA and CGF hoped to resolve the issue, it looks unlikely that shooting will be included in Birmingham but the interest now shifts to the matter of whether India will host the 2026 Commonwealth Games, 16 years after Delhi hosted the 2010 edition.