Hockey Teams Withdrawn From 2022 CW Games: Is It a Result of Political Tussle?
The news evoked contrasting reactions from the world of sport with many supporting the “tit-for-tat decision”.
As international borders are slowly opening up and with travel restrictions easing around the world, the tussle between the Indian and the British governments over ‘strict quarantine rules’ and ‘vaccination certification issues’ have dominated news in the last few days. It now seems to have reached the sporting pitch.
A day after England, citing the COVID-related quarantine regulations for its players, pulled out of the Junior World Cup in Bhubaneswar in November-December 2021, Hockey India announced the withdrawal of its men’s and women’s teams from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year.
'Hockey India Cannot Risk Sending Its Players to the UK'
The news evoked contrasting reactions from the world of sport with many supporting the “tit-for-tat decision” and “India taking a stand in the wake of ‘unfair’ regulations”.
There were also opinions on whether India could have opted to send its development or junior teams things at the multi-disciple event, that has traditionally been considered a prestigious tournament. More so at a time, when Indian hockey is gaining in popularity and fan base in the aftermath of the 2020 Tokyo Games bronze medal.
Given the political backdrop of the development though, the latter seems unlikely. The Games are still nine months away but the decision, it is understood, is final.
Hockey India president Gyanendro Ningombam, in an official communication to the Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra, on Tuesday termed England “as one of the worst affected country in Europe in reference to the pandemic” and said the “quarantine rules for Indian athletes were biased and discriminatory”.
Citing the 32-day window between the two events — the Birmingham Games are slated for 28 July to 8 August, and the Hangzhou Asian Games will be held from 10 to 25 September — Gyanendro wrote that Hockey India cannot risk sending its players to the United Kingdom. In fact, the window is even tighter for the women’s team who would compete at the World Cup in Spain and the Netherlands, from 1 July to 17 July 2022.
Restrictions Imposed on Indian Athletes Biased
“Such discriminatory restrictions were not imposed on Indian athletes and officials during the recent Tokyo Olympic Games and this 10 days quarantine requirement for vaccinated sportspersons will affect their performances. We feel these restrictions are biased against India and term it as very unfortunate,” he wrote.
Hockey India’s move was on expected lines and indications of such a decision were given by Batra last week, when he had spoken about the tight scheduling of next year’s Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, a direct qualification event for the Olympics.
Interestingly, the IOA chief had in 2019 termed the Commonwealth Games as “substandard competition” and had said that India should compete at events of better quality in order to improve.
Hockey Teams, Shooters and Archers to Miss Out
The hockey teams’ withdrawal means India will field a small contingent at the Games, that will also have shooters and archers missing in action.
Recently, the Commonwealth archery and shooting championships, which were scheduled to be held in Chandigarh before the 2022 Birmingham Games, had been cancelled given the “uncertainty” posed by the pandemic.
India had offered to host the shooting and archery competitions following Birmingham’s decision to exclude both the sport from their sporting programme for 2022. Confusion also prevailed over whether the medals from the tournaments in India would have been added in the overall tally, until the recent decision to cancel the events altogether.
The Importance of Commonwealth Games
For years, India and athletes from other Commonwealth nations have revelled at their good showings at the Games. Separated from the Olympics by two years, success at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games has often been considered as a gateway to the podium at the Olympics.
In hockey, the Indian women’s team golden performance at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games paved the way for future generations. It was this very feat by the Suraj Lata Devi-led team that inspired Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak De India in 2007, showcasing the prowess of the women hockey stars to the world.
In contrast, a gold has eluded the men’s team at the CWG since the inception of the sport in 1998. After years of struggle, the men finally came good at the 2010 CWG at home with a silver, a medal that set them on course for greater feats ahead.
It is true that the Commonwealth Games lack the charm of the Asian Games as the latter offer direct qualification berths to the Olympics. But since long, the CWG have been a seedbed for young talent to prosper.
In 2018, shooters Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala were the sparkling finds for India from the Gold Coast event, while Manika Batra was the star performer in table tennis. In contrast, the men’s hockey team’s failure to fetch a medal at the event had led to a swap in the men’s and the women’s coaches (Sjoerd Marijne and Harendra Singh).
Uncertainty Over Future of Commonwealth Games?
In the recent times though, there has been a huge cloud of doubt over the future of the Commonwealth Games. In June this year, Commonwealth Games Federation president Louise Martin had acknowledged that the “current model is not sustainable” and the multi-sport event is set to be downsized after Birmingham 2022.
“We cannot stay as we are – it’s not sustainable. We have to move on, we have to modernise. In my opinion, Birmingham will be the last one of this size. In the future it will be more in keeping with what the country is going to want,” Martin had told Inside the Games.
“It has to be reviewed… It’s not working for us because it’s very difficult to control.”
The CGF president’s comments came in the wake of the fact that no nation has officially bid for the 2026 edition yet. In the past, the Games were awarded years in advance.
Birmingham 2022 will feature 270 medal events, 19 sport, and 4,500 athletes.
(The author has over 18 years of experience in sport writing and formerly worked as Deputy Sports Editor at The Asian Age. She specialises in hockey writing and has covered one Olympics, three Hockey World Cups, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.)
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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