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Commonwealth Games have become much more important for Indian athletes

The Commonwealth Games, scheduled to be held in from July 28, are going to be different for Indian athletes this time.

Since the CWG rank below the Asian Games in the pecking order of multidiscipline games, most athletes prefer to peak at the latter. As per the earlier schedule, the Hangzhou Asian Games were going to held just a month after the CWG. With the Asian event now pushed back to the next year owing to the Covid-19 situation in China, the Birmingham Games have assumed a much greater significance.

For someone like Neeraj Chopra, the World Championships followed by the Diamond League and then the Asian Games would have been the route to take ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics. With the rescheduling of the Asian Games, however, the CWG has now become far more important for the athletes. It is now a 24-month cycle starting with CWG, followed by the Asian Games in SeptemberOctober 2023 and culminating with the Olympics in August 2024. In sum, the cancellation of the Asian Games has significantly helped the CWG to become far more competitive and entertaining.

For the Commonwealth, too, the Birmingham Games are of serious significance now. In 2022, the Commonwealth is considered an outdated organisation and needs sport far more than it ever did. At the time of its inception in 1930, the CWG were pitted as an alternative to the Olympics. Organised to challenge the growing American sporting hegemony in the summer Games, the standard of competition in the CWG was at par with the Olympics till the 1960s.

Politically also the CWG was relevant. The Commonwealth was considered to be a shaping force in the new global world order emerging in the decolonisation era of the 1940s and 1950s. This explains India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s determination to continue as a member of the Commonwealth and use the Games to showcase India’s growing stature in the new world order.

Things have changed since and the Asian Games has overtaken the CWG in importance. The success at the CWG is no longer an indication of Olympics’ preparedness. But that’s where Birmingham 2022 is different and could give a new lease of life to the Commonwealth.

“With the Asian Games postponed, it is the only multi-discipline event of the year. In Tokyo, we won a bronze. The CWG is an opportunity to change the colour of the medal to a better one,” said PR Sreejesh, the custodian of the Indian hockey team.

Savita Punia, who will be leading the women’s team, concurred. “The CWG is an opportunity to carry the momentum forward after Tokyo. The World Cup wasn’t great for us but Birmingham offers a possibility to improve on things. We are determined to give our best for a podium finish,” said Punia.

For Neeraj, things are slightly different. “When we play in the Diamond League or the continental competitions, we have an opportunity to relax and play. But not so at the multidiscipline games. We know people back home will be watching the CWG. In Birmingham, I am not competing as Neeraj Chopra. I will be competing as Neeraj who is a member of the Indian contingent. This is what makes the CWG more significant,” he said.

In some disciplines, the standard of competition is no less than the Olympics or the World Cups. Long jump is a case in point as Anju Bobby George has repeatedly alluded to in the press. Women’s cricket too is a prime example. With Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, India and Barbados all playing, the competition is a mini T20 World Cup. For Harmanpreet Kaur’s side, to make the podium will be a tough task. And if they do so by beating teams like New Zealand, England and South Africa, it will be a huge moment in the history of Indian women’s cricket.

With over 5,000 athletes descending into Birmingham in the next couple of days and 1.5 million tickets sold despite Covid-19, the 2022 CWG is expected to be a sporting extravaganza of real significance. Maybe that’s why Mirabai Chanu said, “Please do bring a pizza to the stadium when you come for my event. I will give my best shot to win gold for India and improve on Tokyo. That’s why you must get me the pizza.”

In the absence of shooting, which normally delivers at the Commonwealth and Asian level, India will need Chanu, PV Sindhu, Neeraj, Ravi Dahiya and Bajrang Punia to be at their best and ensure India finishes in the top four of the medals tally. If that happens the momentum gained in Tokyo would be sustained and put India on course to mount a strong challenge at the 2023 Asian Games and eventually at 2024 Paris.

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