Missed target: on India refusing visa to Pakistani competitors

The decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to revoke Tokyo 2020 Olympics qualification status for the men’s 25-metre rapid fire pistol event from the New Delhi shooting World Cup is a controversy Indian sport could have done without. This has come after India refused visas to two Pakistani competitors, in the backdrop of heightened bilateral tensions after the terror attack in Pulwama. The IOC has declared that this is against the Olympic Charter’s principles, of which non-discrimination, equal treatment of all athletes and sporting delegations and political non-interference are supreme. It is clear that in the clamour to send Pakistan what it perceives to be the right message, India has shot itself in the foot. In the short term, the scrapping of two out of 16 quota places will deny three Indian shooters, including 16-year-old Anish Bhanwala who won the gold in the event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, an opportunity to make the Olympic grade at home. While the National Rifle Association of India has thanked the IOC for sparing the 14 other places by restricting the withdrawal of recognition to just one event, three Indian shooters, for no fault of theirs, have ended up as collateral damage.

The long-term consequences, however, could be more severe. The IOC, in a strongly worded statement, said that it has decided to “suspend all discussions with the Indian National Olympic Committees and government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related eventsuntil clear written guarantees are obtained…to ensure the entry of all participants.” This means negotiations regarding India’s potential bids for the 2026 Youth Olympics, 2030 Asian Games and 2032 Olympics are set to go into cold storage. While it is true that the IOC’s record in dealing with the overlapping worlds of geopolitics and sports is uneven, there have been precedents of strong action in similar cases. Ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Asian Shooting Championship in Kuwait had its qualification status removed after an Israeli delegate wasn’t granted a visa. Less than a month ago, Malaysia was stripped of the World Para Swimming Championship for turning down visa requests from Israeli participants. The entire episode has also played out at a time when sections of the BCCI, egged on by a few yesteryear greats, seemingly mulled over the option of calling for a complete ban on Pakistan from the upcoming ICC World Cup in England. Going by experience, beyond feeding into a certain kind of atmospherics, such bans on sportspersons and interactions in international sports events will have no meaningful effect.

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