Indian hockey team

The head of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has indicated that India’s decision to withdraw its men’s and women’s hockey teams from next year’s edition in Birmingham could likely be linked to the cancellation of the shooting and archery events, which were to be held in Chandigarh at the beginning of 2022.

Louise Martin, the CGF president, said she was “disappointed” after the Indian teams pulled out of the Birmingham Games, and added she had a “brief conversation” with sports minister Anurag Thakur on the issue, which has put further strain on an already prickly relationship.

However, when asked whether she believed it was purely a sporting decision, Martin told The Indian Express: “I have been told it is sporting. It’s disappointing. If Covid hadn’t happened, and Chandigarh (events) had gone ahead, I think it would have been different. Because of Covid and Chandigarh not happening, I think that’s another… I don’t know the full answer to that one.”

Earlier this month, Hockey India said that both the teams would skip the CWG because of the competition’s proximity to the Asian Games, where an Olympic berth is at stake. India’s sudden withdrawal was seen as a reaction to England’s decision to pull out of the Junior World Cup, which is to be held in Bhubaneswar in November-December, citing the then quarantine rules.

However, there were suggestions within India’s Olympic circles that the hockey teams’ withdrawal was, in fact, in response to the CGF’s decision to cancel the shooting and archery events.

Bone of contention

The exclusion of shooting from the Birmingham CWG has been the main bone of contention between the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the CGF. IOA president Narinder Batra even threatened to boycott the Games but rescinded it following Martin’s visit to Delhi in 2019. Back then, it was decided that as a compromise, a Commonwealth shooting and archery championship would be held in Chandigarh so that the athletes get an opportunity to compete. The CGF, however, called off that event in the wake of the pandemic.

Thakur has criticised Hockey India’s “unilateral” decision, and Martin said they are in dialogue with Indian officials, hoping that they change their minds. “We just need to talk to one another. To me, 40 days is plenty of time to do the Games even with the time difference,” she said. “The Commonwealth hockey competition is really, really strong. To me, India should be using that to make sure they are ready for the Asian Games.”

Free vaccines

Hockey India, in their letter to Batra, had also cited the uncertainty over quarantine rules as one of the reasons for their decision to withdraw. Martin guaranteed that the visa situation will be “very easy” for every country participating in the Games and that the British government has decided to offer free vaccines for the participants.
They are, however, yet to decide if vaccination will be mandatory for athletes. “That will be our next discussion. At this moment, we are offering everyone vaccinations for free,” she said.

Athletes who do not get vaccinated might have to undergo a Covid test every day, Martin said, while those who have received both shots “might not need to be tested every single day”.

“That’s for our medical people to tell us. We will follow their rules. I am convinced of these Games not being nearly as restrictive as it was in Tokyo. They were right in the middle of the pandemic. We have come out of the pandemic but it’s still there. That’s what everyone has to realise and we have to make it as secure as we can,” the 75-year-old administrator said, adding that they are aiming for “full stadiums” for the Games.

Kabaddi at CWG?

The Birmingham Games could also be the last edition with all the traditional sports. Earlier this month, the CGF’s general assembly approved a major change in the Games’ programme, according to which only athletics and swimming will remain as compulsory sports. The host city will have the freedom to pick and choose other sports, according to popularity in their region.

This could mean a sport like hockey or wrestling could meet the same fate as shooting did for the Birmingham edition. The decision has received mixed responses from Commonwealth nations, but Martin said it was taken to reduce the strain on future host cities. It must be noted that the CGF is still hunting for a country to host the next Games.

“The size of the sports programme – 19 before and now 22 – was too big and a lot of countries are not big enough to take that. Some of them (sports) are not relevant to them,” Martin said. “So, what we are trying to do is have two sports as our kingpins since they have been there in all editions. And then we have the next list where we have team and individual sports where they can choose from, sports which used to be compulsory but are now optional.”

She added this could lead to a sport like kabaddi being included in the CWG. “It’s up to the host to work with the federation to say which one is most relevant to them and showcase to the world. Like if it’s India, then kabaddi. For Canada, it could be lacrosse.”

By William Regal

Used to think I was a tad indecisive, but now I’m not quite sure.

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