In a major blow to the Commonwealth Games hockey competition, India withdrew its men’s and women’s teams from Birmingham 2022 on Tuesday, citing Covid-related concerns and “discriminatory and biased” quarantine rules nine months out from the start.
In a letter to the Indian Olympic Association president Narinder Batra, Hockey India president Gyanandro Ningombam said that England “has been the worst affected country in Europe” in terms of the Covid pandemic and believed that preparations for the Asian Games – which takes place just over a month after the Commonwealths finish – could be affected.
“You will appreciate that the Asian games is the Continental qualification event for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games and keeping the priority of the Asian Games in mind, Hockey India can not risk any members of the Indian teams contracting COVID-19 during the Commonwealth Games,” Ningombam wrote.
“Therefore, Hockey India will not be sending its men and women teams to Commonwealth Games 2022 and are informing you in advance to kindly notify the Organisers to identify reserve teams.”
The UK recently refused to recognise India’s vaccination certificates and imposed a mandatory 10-day quarantine on travellers – even if they were fully vaccinated, before India enforced “reciprocal” measures for UK nationals.
The tit-for-tat move now seems to have crossed over into hockey, with Hockey India’s Commonwealth Games decision coming a day after England Hockey withdrew from the upcoming Men’s Junior World Cup in India next month.
“Such discriminatory restrictions were not imposed on Indian athletes and officials during the recent Tokyo Olympic Games and this 10-day quarantine requirement for vaccinated sports persons will affect their performance,” Ningombam noted.
“We feel these restrictions are biased against India and term it as very unfortunate.”
The withdrawal from the Commonwealths means that India women will not contend for their first gold since winning at Manchester 2002. The chance of India men facing Pakistan in a rare clash has also been scuppered.
Last month, Batra, who is also the International Hockey Federation president and former Hockey India chief, hinted that India would likely pull out of the Commonwealth Games, with the Asian Games taking priority.