India gets hard lesson from IOC for mixing sports with politics

* IOC Executive Board revokes Olympic qualification status of men's 25m rapid fire pistol event in New Delhi * A victory for National Olympic Committee Pakistan in sports diplomacy

LAHORE: For mixing sports with politics, India has paid the heavy penalty. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has revoked the Olympic qualification status of a 25-meter shooting event at ISSF World Cup in New Delhi because India refused to grant entry visas to two Pakistan athletes and an official, amid tensions over a deadly suicide bomb attack in Indian occupied Kashmir. New Delhi has accused Islamabad of supporting the perpetrators of the February 14 attack that left at least 44 paramilitaries dead. However, Pakistan has categorically denied any involvement. Two Pakistan shooters, GM Bashir and Khalil Ahmed, and their manager were to take part in the event but their passports were returned without issuance of visas, resulting a backlash from the IOC. The ISSF World Cup, with 500 shooters from 60 nations already in New Delhi, is a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The IOC said it was informed that the Indian government authorities did not grant entry visas to the Pakistan delegation for the 25-meter rapid-fire pistol event at the ISSF World Cup, where two places at next year’s Tokyo Olympics were meant to be at stake. “Since becoming aware of the issue, and in spite of intense last-minute joint efforts by the IOC, the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) and the Indian NOC (National Olympic Committee), and discussions with the Indian government authorities, no solution has been found to allow the Pakistan delegation to enter India in time to compete,” the IOC said in a statement. “As a result, the IOC Executive Board also decided to suspend all discussions with the Indian NOC and government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related events in India.” The IOC said the situation goes against the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter to not discriminate against any athlete. The IOC also urged all international sports federations not to hold events in India, or grant hosting rights to the country for future competitions, until the government had provided “clear written guarantees” to ensure access for all athletes.

The IOC said it only withdrew the Olympic qualification status from the competition in which the two Pakistan athletes were supposed to participate. “The IOC restricted the withdrawal of recognition as an Olympic qualification event to the 25m rapid fire pistol competition in which the two Pakistan athletes were supposed to participate,” it said. “This happened in the interest of the other 500 athletes from 60 countries participating in the other events who are already in India for their competition.” It will be the third ISSF competition held in India’s capital since 2017.

It is pertinent to mention here that the National Rifle Association of Pakistan (NRAP) contacted the ISSF regarding the denial of visas while Pakistan Olympic Committee (POA) President Lt Gen (r) Syed Arif Hasan took up the matter with the IOC about the situation. The ISSF and the IOC had warned India of consequences. But India did not pay any heed to the warnings. POA General Secretary General Muhammad Khalid Mahmood said Friday that Pakistan was very disappointed for their athletes not being allowed to participate in an event for which they had been preparing for a very long time. “We have always been of the view that sports must be used as a means to build bridges between communities and countries. It can and must be used for the promotion of peace and not otherwise. Greatly disappointed we had no option left but to refer the matter to the IOC. As a consequence, the IOC Executive Board took a very prudent and balanced decision whereby they withdrew the recognition of the 25m rapid fire pistol competition in which the Pakistan athletes were supposed to participate and has asked the ISSF to make a proposal on how the two available quota places will now be reassigned,” added Khalid.

He said the IOC policy was very clear on the allocation of international sports events and the rights of the athletes to compete without any discrimination. Khalid was all praise for the IOC. “We are very grateful to the IOC for this very well considered decision whereby the right of athletes to participate without any let or hindrance has been upheld. We are also grateful to them for institution of steps to participate subsequently and try to qualify for the two quota places.”

India, which has expressed a strong interest in hosting the 2032 Olympics and 2030 Asian Games, could face further International Olympic Committee action if it keeps on mixing sports with politics and blocking Pakistan from taking part in events to be held in India.

“It’s a big setback for sports in the country,” IOA Secretary General Rajeev Mehta told media in India. “We’ve been in constant touch with the government, trying to explain to them and convince them to grant visas to the Pakistan shooters. This is really unfortunate.” Last year, a boxer from Kosovo, which India does not recognize as an independent state, was denied visa for the women’s world championships in New Delhi. Boxing’s governing body AIBA criticized the decision and warned it might reopen the bidding process for the 2021 men’s championship due to take place in India. “It’s really unfortunate that it happened again,” Mehta said.

Published in Daily Times, February 23rd  2019.