The Olympics has a global allure and the Asian Games basks in its continental spread. Compared to these two, the Commonwealth Games may look like an unflattering vestige of Britain’s colonial past. Yet there is no denying the CWG’s relevance as a stepping stone to greater sporting glory. For India, the relatively limited competition means it remains a frontrunner. This was underlined over the last fortnight at the Gold Coast in Australia, where India won 66 medals and improved on the haul of 64 from the 2014 edition at Glasgow. Importantly, the number of golds rose from 15 to 26. In wrestling, weightlifting, shooting, boxing, badminton and particularly table tennis, India dominated. There were world-class efforts from the Indians. Five-time world boxing champion Mary Kom, two-time Olympic medallist wrestler Sushil Kumar, world champion weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, 2016 world junior javelin champion Neeraj Chopra and teen shooting sensations Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwala produced splendid performances to clinch gold. In badminton, the unexpected gold in the mixed team event, the much-anticipated women’s final featuring P.V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, and the emergence of some doubles combinations were the high points. From the table tennis arena, India provided the biggest surprises. It won a medal in all seven events — an unprecedented sweep of team golds and a historic gold in the women’s singles for Manika Batra, highlighting the hard work done also by the coaching and support team. The 22-year-old Delhi player returned with four medals, including two golds, and proved to be India’s most valuable player.
However, India’s reputation took a beating when A.V. Rakesh Babu and K.T. Irfan were packed off from the Games for violation of the ‘no needle’ policy after needles were found in their rooms. This aberration must not go unaddressed against the backdrop of successes of other Indian athletes. With the next Asian Games scheduled in August-September in Jakarta, Indonesia, India is expected to build on the gains from the Gold Coast. Based on the quality of recent performances, India could improve upon its 2014 tally of 11 gold, 10 silver and 36 bronze medals. Considering the Asian standards of table tennis, badminton, shooting, wrestling, weightlifting and field events in athletics, it will be over-optimistic to expect a gold haul anywhere close to what the Indians managed from the Gold Coast. Chopra, Chanu, Sushil, the badminton players in singles, besides select shooters, will hope to do well. But India will certainly try to register a better show in hockey where the men’s team will defend its Asian Games title, and automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Till then, the CWG has held a mirror up to Indian sport and found a refreshing reflection.