Boycotts and posturing have never been new in sports. Classic examples are the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Boycotts by two different blocs of countries went through at each centre without disrupting the Games as such. A stand was taken for the world to know but in the end who were to suffer, the sportspersons themselves.
Imagine what must have run in the minds of those high performing sportsmen and women, who would have sacrificed their lives and times to achieve that one key goal in life, to not only be there in the Games but perform too. Losing or winning in the Games is but part of any competition. That can be accepted but not the disappointment of not being there in the arena at all. Worse, a sportsperson would never again get an opportunity thereafter for four years from then on nobody could say what the level of excellence would be.
Some such thoughts crossed one's mind when news trickled in of Indian Olympic Association firming up its stand to recommend boycott of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham because the organisers had decided to drop shooting as one of the disciplines there. Shooting is an optional sport, in that the decision to hold competitions in that unlike core disciplines, is left to the organisers to decide. Nonetheless since 1966 only once was this sport not held, else it has been regular and what is more the discipline has been one great medal-getter for India.
At the 2018 Games in Gold Coast, Australia shooting had brought in 16 medals, seven of them gold, out of the 60 odd that India had won. India had topped the standings in shooting. To that extent this is a sport which India looked forward to with lot of expectations. Thus this decision by Birmingham authorities is a definite shock.
Indeed, ever since Abhinav Bindra won gold in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, shooting as a sport has never been the same in India. The national body, the National Rifle Association too had made the best of the growing interest in the sport and invested a lot on bringing up young talents to the fore. That is why we now have such wonderful talents like Shardul Vihan, Saurabh Choudhary, Manu Bhaker, Mehuli Ghosh, Anish Bhanwala and Anjum Moudgil among others, who have projected their skill in no uncertain way and brought laurels.
Could this growing strength in shooting and Indian dominance have created this mind set in the Birmingham CGF officials to decide what they did? At least the IOA believes that this angle of thinking cannot be ruled out. This much seems clear from the import of the IOA President Narinder Batra's letter to the Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju where in he had observed that over a period of time they had noticed that “the rules are changed “ whenever India appeared to get a grip of a sport.
The feelings thus are strong and thus perhaps the extreme response of a boycott. Not that this has been decided because IOA will meet next month to take a final call. But question still arises whether a boycott could solve the issue. Does this do justice to the hard working athletes in other disciplines? There must be alternate avenues.
As the ace shooter Bindra said boycotting the Games was not an option he saw. He felt the Indian authorities need to work closely with the Commonwealth Games Federation, get more of its people in the committees so that shooting does not get excluded anymore and perhaps get it into the Core list. He like many others, understandably, felt punishing athletes of other sports by the boycott was no solution.
The idea was not to undermine the shooters or belittle them but the issue has also to be looked into in a wholesome manner. Aspirations are there for others too and how does that get answered. In 2014 for instance when Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal Karthik made history by winning a gold in the doubles event of squash, not only did the sport get a shot in the arm but the two players became known worldwide. The two went on to make major strides in the sport on the International plane.
What is heartwarming in this is that most sportspersons, some who are looking forward to the 2022 CWG Games as well, are keen that a boycott should not be there though they felt bad for the shooters. But really why did this come to this pass. It is indeed strange that in 2002 when Manchester hosted the Games, shooting was held at Bisley in Surrey and in all its splendour.
Now two decades later the CGF officials claims that the venue was not ready for this or that conducting the event did not offer any benefit to the area, could all sound strange. There was this news that Birmingham officials still in a bid to salvage the situation appeared to have given the option of conducting a curtailed programme of two events (rifle and pistol, instead of all four, shotgun and fullbore being the others) but nobody is sure of the veracity of this.
The IOA thus is in a ticklish situation. Should it stick to the boycott plan or listen to calmer minds like Bindra for instance to work for strengthening India's presence in the CGF committees and promise a better tomorrow for the shooters. In any case, the shooting talents like others still have another big competition soon after in the form of the Asian Games in Hangzhou (China) to portray their skills. They could do that with a vengeance. At the end of the day it would be ideal if no sportsperson suffers from any far-reaching decision.
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