India’s performance in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games – a fifth-place finish on the medals table – didn’t disgrace the contingent. The embarrassment was caused by two officials who got arrested as the Games drew to a close.
India is not a stronger sporting power than England, Australia or Canada. Scotland, buoyed by the frenzied home support, strengthened its position by competing in familiar conditions and managed to finish above India.
The result should surprise no one for home support had similarly vaulted India past England into second at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games four years ago. India had won 101 medals in 2010, the first time they crossed the 100-medal barrier – 38 gold, 27 silver and 36 bronze. The haul from Glasgow was modest – 15 gold, 30 silver and 19 bronze in a total of 64.
Reasons for the drop
CWG 2014 medals table (Top-5)
But the figure perhaps was slightly below what the Indians expected. It’s representation in Glasgow was modest in comparison to New Delhi: 215 sent to Glasgow as opposed to 619 taking part in New Delhi.
However, the bigger factor in India’s relatively modest performance was the change in the CWG program. Tennis and archery were dropped, wrestling and shooting were truncated (Greco Roman wrestling and pairs shooting did not feature in Glasgow). This impacted India severely. As hosts, they had won 15 gold, eight silver and 10 bronze medals in these events.
“It would’ve been great if we had won a few more gold medals, especially in boxing and shooting, which would have pushed us up on the medals table,” Raj Singh, India’s chef-de-mission, said. “But our performance was satisfactory overall.”
India traditionally does well in wrestling, weightlifting and shooting. But the gold medals in athletics, squash and badminton were very gratifying. The pair of Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa won the gold in the women’s doubles squash, India’s first CWG gold in the sport. Parupalli Kashyap became the first Indian man to win a CWG gold in 32 years.
India’s success in wrestling and weightlifting was less surprising. Nigeria topped the weightlifting medals table but India managed a total of 14 medals. This represented a significant triumph for Indian weightlifting. Not long ago, it was stuck deep in trouble due to rampant drug abuse. Even junior lifters were involved and India had acquired the label of ‘drug cheat’ and, at one stage, the Weightlifting Federation of India (WFI) was banned by the international body.
“We were determined to clean up the act,” said Weightlifting Federation of India President Biren Baisya. “We wanted to win, but with honour. Ours is a very high-risk sport in terms of doping and we’ve managed to clean it up. We’ve educated the lifters and are keeping a close eye on them and their activities.”
All but one of the 14 Indian wrestlers won medals. Vinod Kumar, the national men’s squad coach, believes that India is ready to challenge for more medals at the bigger stage, the Olympics.
Meanwhile, boxing seemed to have let India down but it would be more accurate to say that officials let boxing and the boxers down. Indian pugilists won five medals in Glasgow compared to seven in 2010. But they were starved of world-class training due to the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation’s (IABF) suspension by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) since December 2012.
Earlier this year, the IABF was terminated by AIBA.
“Our expectations were very low and we should be happy with the four silver medals we managed to win – they are as good as gold,” national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu said.
Shooting brought home five medals compared to the 14 India bagged four years ago. But the men’s hockey team repeated its 2010 silver – they were beaten 8-0 in the final by Australia four years ago and this time it 4-0.
Away from the medals table, CWG is hardly the toughest competition in the world of sport.
Yet, it remains important. It acts as a first stepping stone for emerging athletes. There were several first-time medal winners for India. But on the side were a high number of repeat winners which indicate that India’s talent pool is not bursting with new and emerging contenders to the throne.
The writer is the sports editor of The Tribune, the Chandigarh-based newspaper