Why India should prioritise individual sports over team sports at Asian Games
Except cricket, hockey and kabaddi, India's chances in the 11 team sports at the Asian Games look bleak. Should we still send teams in sports like football?
Two more months remain till the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, but a crucial question is being decided by pitched battles at the moment - which athletes in which of the 42 sports in the Asian Games programme will represent India?
Court cases, hurried press releases followed by clarifications, fights between different sports federations, fights between factions within the same federation - the entire array of the drama behind the scenes of Indian sports is playing out.
A list of around 800 athletes have been sent by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to the Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee (HAGOC) for the Games, which begin from September 23. This will be pruned to a final list of around 600 athletes by the Indian sports ministry, based on chances of winning medals at the Asian level.
The victims of this pruning process are likely to be some team sports like football, where India's current ranking is not within the top 8 (in Asia).
Here we attempt to lay out the merits and demerits of prioritising individual sports for the Asian Games.
Sports in Asian Games 2022
The 2022 Asian Games will feature 42 sports, with 61 disciplines.
Out of these, 11 (10 Sports and 1 Discipline*) are team sports - Aquatics (Water Polo*), Baseball (Baseball and Softball), Basketball (5×5 Basketball,3×3 Basketball), Cricket, Field Hockey, Football, Handball, Kabaddi, Rugby Sevens, Sepaktakraw and Volleyball (Beach volleyball and Indoor Volleyball).
Individual sports vs team sports: India's medal count at Asian Games
Except kabaddi and hockey, India have never enjoyed any success in any team sports at the Asian Games. It will be a first for the cricket teams this time.
These three team sports are indeed likely to swell India's medal tally, but they will have little to no effect on the profiles of these sports. Asian Games is hardly a priority for the Indian teams in these three sports, because Olympics/World Cups/World Championships are more high-profile events in these sports.
Conversely, while some individual sports might offer India no chances of medals, the Asian Games would be the biggest platforms for the athletes - such as in sports like ju jitsu, wushu, soft tennis, compound archery, e-sports and board games like chess and bridge.
Across the history of the Asian Games, India's medal count is 672. A total of 10 out of these 672 medals were won in team sports other than kabaddi and hockey.
Individual sports medals - 630
Team sports medals - 42 (out of which Kabaddi and Hockey teams won 32)
As the above table shows, football, volleyball, water polo and sepaktakraw are four other team sports which have accounted for some medals in the past.
India has never won any medal in team sports like baseball, basketball, cricket, handball, rugby sevens.
Individual sports with zero medals for India are modern pentathlon, dragon boat, fencing, ju-jitsu and triathlon, all of which are very niche sports in india.
India's rankings in Team Sports among Asian nations
If the 'top 8 ranking in Asia' provision is followed to the letter, sepak takraw will be the only team sport other than cricket, hockey and kabaddi which will see both the men's and women's teams taking part at the 2022 Asian Games. Rugby, handball and softball are the sports which can see the women's teams being sent but not the men's.
Cricket: Men 1, Women 1
Hockey: Men1, Women 1
Kabaddi: Men1, Women 1
Football: Men 17, Women 10
Basketball: Men 15, Women 9
Volleyball: Men18, Women 14
Rugby Sevens: Men 10, Women 5
Handball: Men16, Women 5
Baseball: Men 9, Women 7
Sepaktakraw: Men 5, Women 8
Water Polo: Men 15, Women 8
India's performance in team sports at Asian level
Indian national teams have never finished on the podium at major Asian tournaments like Asian Championships or Asian Cup in team sports like baseball, basketball, handball, rugby sevens and water polo.
Rankings and recent results would suggest that while there is an outside chance in sepaktakraw, cricket, hockey and kabaddi are the only team sports that will account for medals at the 2022 Asian Games.
Here's a look at some results by India in major Asian tournaments over the years:
Baseball (Men) - Asian Games - Not Participated
Baseball (Men) - Asian Championship - 7th in 1987 and 1989
Softball (Women) - Asian Games - Not Participated
Softball (Women) - Asian Women's Championship - 9th in 2017 and 2023
Basketball (Men) - Asian Games - 4th in 1951
Basketball (Men) - Asia Cup - 8th in 2001, 2003 and 2015
Basketball (Women) - Asian Games - Not Participated
Basketball (Women) - Women's Asia Cup - 5th in 1992
Handball (Men) - Asian Games - 8th in 1982
Handball (Men) - Asian Championship - 5th in 1979
Handball (Women) - Asian Games - 5th in 1982
Handball (Women) - Women's Asian Championhip - 6th in 2000 and 2022
Rugby Sevens (Men) - Asian Games - 7th in 2010
Rugby Sevens (Men) - Asian Trophy (second division) - 9th in 2022
Rugby Sevens (Women) - Asian Games - 7th in 2010
Rugby Sevens (Women) - Asia Trophy (second division) - 2nd in 2017 and 2019
Water Polo (Men) - Asian Games - Gold in 1951
Water Polo (Men) - Asian Championship - 9th in 2022
Water Polo (Women) - Asian Games - 4th in 2010
Water Polo (Women) - Asian Championhip - 5th in 2012