A final decision on the Indian Olympic Association's call for boycott of the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG) will rest with the government, Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju said on Friday, adding that he "stood with the sentiment" of the national federation.
The IOA has been rallying for India to pull out of the next edition of the Games in Birmingham over its top medal-winning sport, shooting, being dropped from the program. "Any major sporting event can be a vehicle to convey a larger message beyond sport itself. In the earlier days, the East Bloc boycotted the Olympics conducted in the West. Now, the world isn't split into blocs anymore but there (are) times when it becomes symbolically important," says Rijiju, who is on a two-day visit to Karnataka.
"When the matter was put before me by the IOA, their view was we should boycott the Games. I sought some time to try and intervene and wrote to the UK Sports Secretary requesting the issue be considered. No Indian representative was present when the decision to drop the sport was taken at the Executive Council of the Games, so our view was not considered or given due importance. So if it has to be boycotted, the government will take a call. We will take a final decision only after looking into all aspects. But we stand with the sentiment of the IOA."
The truth is, shooting's exclusion was more a ticking bomb than a surprise. As early as 2003, when the number of obligatory sports in the Games program rose from two (swimming, athletics) to five, shooting wasn't part of it and was placed in the roll call of 20 other sports. Three years before the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, at the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) General Assembly in Colombo in 2007, sports were categorized into core and optional. Shooting was, again, not part of the 10 core sports named. Being named in the optional sports list meant it stood the threat of being dropped from any future editions of the Games.
In 2015, the IOA fluffed another chance. At the CGF General Assembly in Auckland, the number of core sports was widened from 10 to 16, and shooting was again not part of the fresh list. Through all of this, the national federation did little to protest or secure shooting's place in the Games despite their representatives being in attendance at the CGF meetings.
Rijiju visited Sports Authority of India's Bengaluru campus in addition to former World Championship medallist long jumper Anju Bobby George's proposed academy. The ministry had recently sanctioned a grant of Rs 5 crore for the latter, which will include a synthetic track, gym and recovery centre to be built on a six-acre plot of land.
Asked how he planned to rein in feuding sports bodies, Rijiju said, in principle, he found no fault with the idea of factions in a federation as long as athletes' interests weren't hurt. "Factions are not bad. They are a natural byproduct of a democratic process being followed in voting, but players should not suffer. I issued a stern directive right at the start that the ministry will take over the ad hoc functions of federations where infighting continues."
Currently, multiple federations -- including archery, volleyball, golf and equestrian -- continue to be on the warpath, throwing their athletes under the bus. The suspension of the Archery Association of India by its world body over the conduct of its elections has meant Indian archers cannot compete at international events as things stand now.
In addition to sports bodies, the national dope testing laboratory (NDTL) is also serving a six-month suspension handed to it by WADA in August this year -- a worrying development 10 months ahead of the Olympics. The National Anti-Doping Authority now has little choice but to send samples of athletes overseas for testing. In the absence of lavish budgets, it could effectively boil down to fewer tests.
"I was very upset when I heard of it (suspension)," says Rijiju, "We have sorted out most of the issues, just seven or eight more areas that need to be fixed. We will do that soon too. We don't want to send samples of our athletes to foreign countries."