The India Olympic Association (IOA) went into the meeting room with the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) squabbling on a boycott. Somehow, at the end of it, they ended up expressing interest to host the very event they wanted to snub. Whether it was the CGF officials pulling off some sort of a salesman trick or their IOA counterparts shooting from the hip, one can’t say.
But even as the impasse continues over India’s participation in the 2022 Commonwealth Games and beyond, IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta announced they are considering a bid for the 2026 edition. “We are willing to host 2026 CWG. We will first take approval from the (IOA) executive board and general assembly. Then we will approach the government. If they allow, we can host the Games,” Mehta said.
The declaration surprised CGF president Louise Martin and CEO David Grevemberg, who shared the stage with Mehta at a media briefing after the meeting on Thursday. Even IOA president Narinder Batra, sitting next to Mehta, looked a little perplexed. No one offered an immediate response to it, with a few other IOA members saying it was Mehta’s ‘personal opinion’.
The same was said in June as well, when Mehta floated the idea of India boycotting the 2022 Games because the organisers excluded shooting, a sport where the country wins the bulk of its medals. The stray remark by the IOA secretary general snowballed into a major controversy. And when the IOA’s president suggested that India should withdraw from the Games for good, the CGF top brass was forced to undertake a trip to Delhi to broker peace.
The CGF hoped they would explain the rationale behind shooting’s exclusion and also remind the IOA that Mehta and then president N Ramachandran were among the representatives of 71 Commonwealth nations who agreed to keep shooting in the ‘optional sport category’ in the CWG during a meeting in 2015. “It is disappointing because it was a unanimous decision. But we are where we are right now,” Martin said.
Multiple options were considered on Thursday to appease India. The CGF has suggested that the Commonwealth Shooting Championship, which will be held simultaneously, offers world ranking points - that call, however, will be taken by the International Shooting Sport Federation. The IOA, on the other hand, has demanded that the medals won by shooters at the Championship be counted in the CWG medals tally.
A lot of vague scenarios but at the end of the meeting, two things were clear: shooting will not be a part of the 2022 CWG, against India’s wishes and the IOA has not withdrawn its boycott threat, contrary to what the CGF hoped.
But India did soften its stand, with Batra saying ‘boycott was not an appropriate’ word. “It should have been ‘withdrawal’. It was a successful and productive meeting but the proposal of withdrawal from 2022 CWG still stands,” he said.
Batra said the bigger concern for him was the short gap between the Commonwealth and Asian Games. The Asiad, he said, assumes significance for a lot of sports where Olympic qualification berths are up for grabs. “You can’t expect an athlete to peak today and then again after 32 days, given that is the gap between the 2022 CWG and Asian Games,” he added. “It’s not that CWG medals are not important, they are. So are Asian Games, which is also an Olympic qualifying event for some. And how do I increase my Olympic medals if we have to bid for the 2032 Olympics? We keep everything in mind.”
The IOA has already expressed interest to host a bunch of events, including the 2026 Youth Games, 2030 Asian Games and 2032 Olympics. Mehta’s announcement that India will also bid for the 2026 CWG means the country has now thrown its hat in the ring for almost all multi-discipline events during that cycle. At the moment, however, confusion prevails over whether the IOA wants to boycott the CWG or host it. Perhaps, they feel the safest way to ensure shooting returns to the CWG programme is by hosting it.