Games-India withdraw hockey teams from Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Hockey – Men – Semifinal – India v Belgium – Oi Hockey Stadium, Tokyo, Japan – August 3, 2021. Harmanpreet Singh of India celebrates with teammates after scoring. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh. File Photo

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India has withdrawn its hockey teams from next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham citing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and a short turnaround before the Asian Games in China, a qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

The Commonwealth Games are scheduled for July 28 to Aug. 8, with the Asian Games in Hangzhou starting on Sept. 10.

In a letter addressed to Indian Olympic Association President Narinder Batra, and reviewed by Reuters, the hockey federation said the Asian Games were the priority.

“With reference to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have observed over the last 18 months that England has been the worst affected country in Europe,” Hockey India chief Gyanendro Ningombam wrote.

“… 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 cannot risk any members of the Indian teams contracting COVID-19 during the Commonwealth Games.”

Ningombam said the quarantine measures for Indians arriving in Britain, even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, were “very unfortunate” and would affect athletes’ performance.

The decision came a day after England, citing “a number of COVID-related concerns”, withdrew from the men’s hockey Junior World Cup, which will be held in the Indian city of Bhubaneswar from Nov. 24-Dec. 5.

Batra, who is also the chief of the global hockey governing body (FIH), said the decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games was “final”.

“It’s the federation’s decision that they are prioritising the Asian Games. I can’t force anyone to reconsider,” Batra told Reuters on Wednesday.

India and Britain have also been involved in a row over quarantine measures for international arrivals.

Visiting UK nationals have to undergo mandatory quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a measure the Indian government said was in response to similar restrictions imposed by the UK on Indian citizens.

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