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Narinder Batra's call to boycott the Commonwealth Games is wrong and right

Boycotting CWG isn’t the correct approach but what the IOA president said about monetary reward to athletes should be discussed in detail

Sep 27, 2019, 08.16 AM IST
Where Narinder Batra makes a strong case is on the issue of the prize money.
Much has already been said about Narinder Batra’s call to boycott the Commonwealth Games (CWG) permanently. While most have opposed the idea and expectedly so, some administrators have concurred with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president in saying the CWG has lost relevance as a sports competition. But, can there be a straightforward answer to this? Is Batra completely wrong or completely right? Is it really an anti-athlete proposal that needs to be trashed or has someone finally tried to bell the cat and is getting trolled in the process?

Frankly, there is no black and white answer to this. While Batra’s stand that boycott is justified because CWG standards are low should be contested, his stand that athletes receiving big monies from the government for their performances in the event should also be looked into with due seriousness.

To the participation issue first. There is no debate India should continue to participate in the CWG. More than medals, the aim should always be to make this country a physically literate one and to do so, every sports competition is important. Each person playing and winning a medal can inspire a few more. While India has made significant progress in other fields, the vision of “sports for all” is still a pipe dream. CWG, like any other sports contest, helps in getting us closer to this dream. Going by the low standards parameter, there should be no regional games either and every elite athlete should stay away from competing in domestic competitions. Also, if standards are the norm, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) may well ban India from participating in the World Championships for none of the 27 Indian athletes going to Doha have any chance of winning a medal.

From the very beginning of the Olympic movement in 1896, participation was the goal. The Olympic Games, at least to its founder Pierre de-Coubertin, was more about participation than medals. It was with Hitler in 1936 that the Olympics became a platform to showcase national prowess.

The 101 medals India won at the 2010 CWG had resulted in a sporting surge of sorts in the country and the six medals won at the 2012 Olympics was a result of that stimulus. The New Delhi edition of the CWG helped in reigniting the dream of ‘sport for all’ and ‘sport for development’ and only for this reason alone we should continue to participate in the CWG going forward.

Where Batra makes a strong case is on the issue of the prize money athletes get from the government for medals won at the CWG. At the moment a gold medal at the CWG gets an athlete Rs 30 lacs while a silver medal gets him or her Rs 20 lacs and a bronze Rs 10 lac. Consider this: Deepak Punia received Rs 7 lacs from the federation for his silver medal winning effort at the recently concluded World Wrestling Championships. However, the standard of the wrestling worlds is way higher than the CWG.

The same can be said of Amit Panghal’s silver. The standard of boxing at the World Championships is often as good as the Olympics. With a huge number of participants and every country sending their best, winning a medal at the World Championships should be considered an ultimate sporting achievement. So far, however, Panghal hasn’t received any reward from the government and it is just to question the policy in vogue at the moment. At the very least, a World Championships medal should worth more than a CWG medal.

This is where the things get complicated. The government is rewarding athletic excellence by paying serious amounts of money. And the CWG isn’t a platform to showcase real athletic excellence. It is an important sporting platform for participation for sure but it isn’t a stage where athletic excellence is tested. That’s why a distinction should be made. While India should continue to participate in the CWG, for it will encourage sport at multiple levels, there is an immediate need to rethink the amounts given to athletes for winning a medal at the event. The money could be used to nurture athletes at the grassroot level and passed on to coaches across the country. That’s where Batra’s proposal becomes relevant and should be discussed at a policy level.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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