The run-up to India’s Commonwealth Birmingham campaign got off to an inauspicious start by losing its trailblazing torchbearer — javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra. The Olympic gold medalist suffered a groin injury during his silver medal performance at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon a month ago.
However, a little over a week into the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Chopra’s absence hasn’t really been felt in the sizeable Indian contingent or among fans the way it would have in the Olympics. Rather, other members of the contingent have massively stepped up — as it stands, the Indians have won 9 gold medals, 8 silver and 9 bronze across nine sports.
India’s numerous podium successes are down from 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 track and field tournament with mainstream Indian following to take place in the Covid era without major restrictions or bio bubbles in place, especially in light of the postponement of the 2022 Asian Games.
With the Commonwealth Games ending Monday, the bigger story for India lies in the diverse disciplines of the medalists compared to past editions, where shooting and wrestling dominated the scene, although it hasn’t been smooth administrative sailing. And that is why the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Expanding the podium pool
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 medallist Mirabai Chanu striking gold alongside tournament debutants Jeremy Lalrinnunga and Achinta Sheuli.
Twenty-eight of India’s 66 medals at Gold Coast in Australia came in the usual suspects of shooting and wrestling. With shooting dropped from the Birmingham calendar and wrestling taking place during the latter days of the Games, the gap was there for Indians in other disciplines to fill.
The results so far have shown a mix of veterans and youngsters — 35-year-old squash player Sourav Ghosal followed up his silver in Gold Coast with a bronze in Birmingham, 40-year-old Sharath Kamal Achanta was part of a four-member team that won gold in table tennis, and 23-year-old Murali Shreeshankar secured a silver in long jump, to name a few.
Most notable though has been India’s historic lawn bowls gold in the women’s fours category, with the winning team featuring a Delhi high school physical education teacher, a Jharkhand district sports officer, a Jharkhand police officer and an Assam forest department employee.
And there may yet be more to come, with the majority of the track and field events being held this weekend, as well as India’s women’s cricket semifinal against England, and the medal brackets in hockey, table tennis and boxing.
Federations under cloud
However, no major tournament with Indian participation appears to go ahead without off-field incident or controversy and the same applies to Birmingham 2022, in the cases of boxer Lovlina Borgohain and high jump athlete Tejaswin Shankar.
In the week leading up to the Games, Borgohain had complained on Twitter about “mental harassment”, seemingly on the part of the Boxing Federation of India as well as the Indian Olympic Association and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, for an administrative blocking of her coach’s entry to the Birmingham Games village.
Meanwhile, Shankar had to take his battle with the Athletics Federation of India to the Delhi High Court in order to be approved as a replacement player for India’s athletics contingent at Birmingham. Shankar had missed out on the final selection trials in Chennai and chose to participate in the American collegiate tournament instead as a student in Kansas, and was denied qualification by the AFI before he decided to approach the court.
Borgohain’s Birmingham dream ended in defeat to Wales’ Rosie Eccles in the quarterfinals but Shankar defied the federation with a bronze medal to follow up his successes at national American college level.
A week back Tejaswin Shankar was practising in front of 3 dogs at JLN Stadium, after not being named to the CWG squad despite meeting the AFI QF standard. Included at the last minute after taking the fed to court, today in front of 30000, he wins a high jump bronze in Birmingham. pic.twitter.com/1YDiEsvjE3
— jonathan selvaraj (@jon_selvaraj) August 3, 2022
That Shankar was able to achieve this despite, rather than because of, the work of the federation reflects the need for the powers at be to rethink and do away with some of the antiquated systems in place behind their selection processes.
Views are personal.