New Delhi: Shooting has been integral to Commonwealth Games since 1974 having been introduced in 1966 but missing out four years later. Since then, the sport has played a major role in fattening India's overall medal tally beyond 500 with 134 medals. Or more than 25 percent since the country's maiden appearance in 1930. But that could come to a standstill after shooting was omitted from the 2022 programme due to lack of a suitable venue.
In June, when the decision to drop shooting was announced, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had voiced disappointment and willingness to boycott the event altogether. At the time, Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju had said, "If you have to boycott, you have to ask the government because these decisions are not to be taken unilaterally, it has to be done through proper consultation.".
Manu Bhaker won gold while Heena Sidhu won silver in the 10m air pistol event.
"It is a matter of future of our athletes and national prestige, everything is involved. Our IOA must have taken a stand and we will discuss with them."
Last week, wheels were put into motion in that regard. IOA president Narendra Batra shot off a letter to the Sports Ministry proposing a boycott of the games and sought the government's approval in regard. A day prior, IOA had pulled out of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) General Assembly in Rwanda in September as a mark of protest.
Away from shooting, weightlifting (124), wrestling (102) and boxing (37) contribute the next most medals for India in the Commonwealth Games. Officials and athletes of all three, for now, stand firmly by IOA and their stance of not participating if shooting is not included.
"We have strong chances of winning medals in the Commonwealth Games, so if there is a boycott then yes it does hurt us. But if the IOA, the government takes a decision then we're with them. It is not beneficial to us but we can't go separately from our country. Whatever the decision IOA takes or the Sports Ministry takes, we will stand by them. We will not protest against any possible boycott," said Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) secretary general Sahdev Yadav.
That opinion was echoed by the executive director of Boxing Federation of India (BFI) RK Sacheti. "We support IOA's stand on this and as a federation, the IOA is responsible for all sports. If IOA is taking a stand for a sport - shooting in this case - we stand by them. It is not a question of the boycott but for CGF to consider India as a major country and consider all stakeholders before finalising those things (removal of shooting)," he cleared.
"With India as a major stakeholder, and they remove shooting, we have to take some strong steps. If next time they remove boxing, weightlifting or wrestling, it would be unfair as well. It isn't even about these sports, what we're talking about is the principle concept," he added.
Amid strong protest from India, Birmingham 2022's chief Ian Reid told The Telegraph that the proposed venue at Bisley (130 miles from Birmingham in Surrey) "offered little or no benefit to the West Midlands, in a Games with a significant proportion of funding coming from the region." He then ventured to explain that small-bore rifle and pistol disciplines were offered but the compromise was rejected by International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).
"Shooting contributes maximum medals for India. If it is about the infrastructure and the availability of it, then why can't they have it in London where the Olympics were played (in 2012)? If their intention was to include shooting in the programme, then they will conduct it in London. There should be no trouble in that regards as all the infrastructure and stadiums are already there. These are excuses to bring down India's medal tally - there is no other reason to it. Why are they going after shooting and not any other sport in which we don't have a strong record? If our six to seven gold medals are gone, then it hurts India. There are still three years left and if they want, the work can be done to build the facilities required," said Sahdev.
Not just India, British Shooting has also expressed their disappointment with the move. "British Shooting notes with interest, and a degree of disappointment, the statement made today by Birmingham 2022 regarding the Commonwealth Games and Shooting," the official body said in a statement on 30 July.
"It is not British Shooting's desire to engage in a negative and public exchange with any other party on this matter and it has, hitherto, simply expressed a deep and genuine dismay at the outcome."
We're aware of news reports about why the optional sport of shooting hasn't been included at #B2022
We've issued a statement to clarify the facts.
- Birmingham 2022 (@birminghamcg22) July 30, 2019
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, of India's 66 medals, 16 came from shooting. For England, eight of 136 emerged from the shooting ranges. Laetisha Scanlan, Australia's gold medallist in the trap event at 2010, 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games expressed surprise with Birmingham organisers' decision. "I was very, very shocked (to hear the news)," the 27-year-old Victorian said to The Australian in 2017. "It's really, really surprising that it's going to be taken out, especially in a country where the sport is flourishing. They are mad to take it out." England has been impressive in shooting at the Commonwealth Games this millennium. They've won 18, 19, 19 and 15 medals in the fourth editions since the turn of the millennium prior to Gold Coast.
An entire country's contingent goes for a Commonwealth Games. The more medals a country wins, the more reason for pride it is for an athlete.
"Shooting is a huge medal hope for India and its exclusion will directly affect our medals tally," said Sakshi Malik, a two-time Commonwealth Games medal-winning wrestler recently during an event in the capital. She, however, didn't dwell on whether the idea to boycott the Games completely was ideal or not. "I wish that the issue gets sorted and shooting can be included so that we don't have to think about taking that extreme step and boycott the entire Games."
With shooting and archery not finding a place in the 2022 sporting list, beach volleyball, para table tennis and women's cricket were the inductees. They were approved by the CGF board last month and will now go up to be ratified by a vote of 71 Commonwealth Games Associations.
"As of today, the pressure is built up for the CGF session which is happening in September. So it is not that the events are coming up ahead in the year, there are still three years to go. If we kept quiet, then we'd be questioned why we stayed quiet. There is still a long way to go - we have made ourselves clear, we have made clear we will not be sending a representative for the Assembly and they should take a strong action," said Sacheti further on the ball now being in CGF's court on finding an amicable solution.
"We absolutely want India to participate wholeheartedly in Birmingham 2022 and look forward to meeting our colleagues in India over the coming months to discuss their concerns and future ambitions," CGF Media and Communications Manager Tom Degun told news agency PTI in an email.
From an athlete's perspective, a big event such as Commonwealth Games carries budget allocations to securing jobs for the future to prize money and civilian awards. "There is a Sports Ministry to ponder over everything in case we do end up boycotting. The word of an athlete means nothing in such things. The opinion and word of the athlete is taken in the end. Before that, there is plenty of things - communication within IOA, between the government and the IOA then with the CGF. We hope there is a solution to it," said Manoj Kumar, two-time Commonwealth Games medallist and athlete representative in BFI.
"An entire country's contingent goes for a Commonwealth Games. The more medals a country wins, the more reason for the pride it is for an athlete. So it also works as a confidence booster for the rest when shooters win medals early on. It builds positive energy and it helps fellow athletes. So we would wish for shooting to be included," he clarified.