Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Politics & sports

Amid escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of Pulwama suicide attack on February 14, refusal to grant visa to Pakistani sports competitors, the country has risked hosting future sports meets. It is unfortunate that International Olympics Committee (IOC) has also decided to suspend all discussions with Indian organizers for hosting of future global sports events. This could lead to cascading impact on sports events that are likely to be held in India in near future and qualification of participants will be subject to repeat of world level competitions at an alternate venue either in Asia or outside the continent. The decision of the IOC to revoke Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualification status for the men’s 25-metre rapid fire pistol event from New Delhi shooting World Cup appears to be in line with a thought process of the international sports organization. The rationale thought process points to the fact that India could do without this controversy and could have allowed grant of visa to Pakistani sports participants. This has come after India refused visas to two Pakistani competitors, in the backdrop of heightened bilateral tensions. The IOC has declared that this is against the principles of Olympic Charter, of which non-discrimination, equal treatment of all athletes and sporting delegations and political non-interference are supreme. It is clear that in the clamour to send Pakistan what it perceives to be the right message, India appears to have shot itself in the foot. In the short term, the scrapping of two out of 16 quota places will deny three Indian shooters, including 16-year-old Anish Bhanwala, who won the gold in the event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, an opportunity to make the Olympic grade at home. While the Indian National Rifle Association has thanked the IOC for sparing the 14 other places by restricting the withdrawal of recognition to just one event, three Indian shooters, for no fault of theirs, have ended up as collateral damage. This is a face saving so far as stringent action expected to be taken by the IOC on the issue of restricting entry of Pakistani sportspersons. Apart from this, the Indian organizations are expecting adverse treatment from the IOC and other international sporting organizations. They are fearing that the long-term consequences could be more severe. The IOC, in a strongly worded statement, said that it has decided to ‘suspend all discussions with the Indian National Olympic Committees and government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related events until clear written guarantees are obtained… to ensure the entry of all participants’. This means negotiations regarding India’s potential bids for the 2026 Youth Olympics, 2030 Asian Games and 2032 Olympics are likely to be put into cold storage. While it is true that the IOC’s record in dealing with the overlapping worlds of geopolitics and sports is uneven, there have been precedents of strong action in similar cases against some of the countries in the past. Take into consideration that ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Asian Shooting Championship in Kuwait had its qualification status removed after an Israeli delegate wasn’t granted a visa. Less than a month ago, Malaysia was stripped of the World Para Swimming Championship for turning down visa requests from Israeli participants. The entire episode has also played out at a time when sections of the BCCI, egged on by a few yesteryear greats, seemingly mulled over the option of calling for a complete ban on Pakistan from the upcoming ICC World Cup in England. This can have an adverse impact on the future cricketing festivals not only in India but also elsewhere wherein BCCI is an organizer. Going by experience and actions of the international sports bodies, beyond feeding into a certain kind of politics, such bans on sportspersons and interactions in international sports events will have no meaningful effect. Only time will tell what will the affect of such an action of India on World Cup shooting recently held in New Delhi.