Birmingham 2022 scenario for a new Commonwealth Games story for India – fewer medals, more diversity

Tbefore India’s Commonwealth campaign, Birmingham got off to an inauspicious start by losing their groundbreaking torchbearer, javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. The Olympic gold medalist suffered a groin injury during his silver medal run at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon a month ago.

However, just over a week away from the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Chopra’s absence has not been felt by the sizable Indian contingent or fans the way it would have been at the Olympics. Rather, other members of the contingent have stepped up in droves – as of now, Indians have won 9 gold medals, 8 silver and 9 bronze medals in nine sports.

India’s numerous podium successes have been fewer than recent Commonwealth editions, and yet the relative ease with which some of the athletes breezed through the competition perhaps reflects the declining prestige of the Commonwealth Games compared to other international tournaments.

However, it is still the first major athletics tournament with a mainstream Indian following to be held in the Covid era without major restrictions or bio-balloons, especially in light of the postponement of the 2022 Asian Games.

With the Commonwealth Games ending on Monday, the bigger story for India lies in the varied disciplines of the medal winners compared to past editions where shooting and wrestling dominated the scene, though it was not administratively smooth sailing. And that’s why the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games is ThePrint’s Journalist of the Week.


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Podium pool extension

Of India’s 26 medals so far, 10 have come in weightlifting, a positive progression from the 9 achieved at Gold Coast 2018, with Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Mirabai Chanu winning the gold alongside tournament debutants Jeremy Larrinunga and Achinta Sheuli.

Twenty-eight of India’s 66 medals in Australia’s Gold Coast came in the usual suspects of shooting and wrestling. With shooting dropped from Birmingham’s calendar and wrestling taking place in the final days of the Games, there was a gap for Indians in other disciplines to fill.

The results so far show a mix of veterans and youngsters – 35-year-old squash player Sourav Ghosal followed up his silver in Gold Coast with bronze in Birmingham, 40-year-old Sharath Kamal Achanta was part of a four-man team that won gold in table tennis, and 23 -year-old Murali Srishankar secured a silver in the long jump to name a few.

Most notable, however, was the historic India Turf Cup gold in the women’s fours category, with the winning team comprising a Delhi High School PE teacher, a Jharkhand district sports official, a Jharkhand police officer and a forest department official of Assam.

And there may be more yet to come, with the bulk of the athletics competition taking place this weekend, as well as India’s women’s cricket semi-final against England and the medal groups of hockey, table tennis and boxing.


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Federations under a cloud

However, no major tournament with Indian participation seems to be without incidents or controversies off the field and the same is true for Birmingham 2022, in the cases of boxer Lovlina Borgohain and high jumper Tejaswin Shankar.

In the week before the Games, Borgohain complained on Twitter of “mental harassment” apparently by the Boxing Federation of India, as well as the Indian Olympic Association and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, for administratively blocking her coach from entering the Games Village in Birmingham.

Shankar, meanwhile, had to fight his battle with the Athletics Federation of India in the Delhi High Court to be approved as an alternate to the Indian athletics contingent in Birmingham. Shankar had missed the final selection trials in Chennai and opted to participate in the US university tournament instead as a student in Kansas and was denied qualification by the AFI before deciding to turn to the court.

Borgohain’s Birmingham dream ended with a loss to Wales’ Rosie Eccles in the quarter-finals, but Shankar defied the federation with a bronze medal to continue her success at the US college national level.

That Shankar was able to achieve this despite, rather than because of, the federation’s work reflects the authority’s need to rethink and scrap some of the antiquated systems behind their selection processes.

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