Is the CWG a substandard competition compared to the Asian Games?

Indian athletes march during the closing ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium in Gold Coast, Australia. AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

A few weeks ago, while he was feuding with the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) over the exclusion of shooting at the 2022 edition of the Games in Birmingham, Narinder Batra, the head of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), questioned the value of the competition.

He said that the CWG was a substandard competition and that India should consider a pullout to improve their own standards. "My view is that Commonwealth Games (CWG) has no standard. We get 70, 100 medals in Commonwealth and when it comes to Olympics we get two medals. You have... other events where you can have better competition," he told reporters.

Batra further clarified those views at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday following a meeting between him and Dame Louise Martin, the president of the CGF.

Post the meeting, where he insisted that the IOA's threat of withdrawing from the 2022 Birmingham games was still on the table, Batra touched upon his previous remarks about the standard of the CWG.

He said that he had meant with relatively little time between the CWG and the Asian Games, athletes were unable to peak for the latter event. This was particularly significant for sports like hockey and tennis for which the Asian Games serves as an Olympic qualifying event (The winner of the hockey tournament and the gold medallist in the singles events earn the right to compete at the Olympics)

Batra's simplification that the Asian Games is of a superior standard to the Commonwealth Games is only partly justified by statistics.

There are 16 Olympic disciplines in which athletes compete at both the Commonwealth and the Asian Games. A total of 667 medals can be won at the Olympic Games in these disciplines. Now, the relative standard of Commonwealth and Asian countries can only be judged on how athletes from these regions performed at the most recent world level championships in these disciplines.

(Note: Countries that qualify for both categories, such as India and Malaysia, have been counted in the tally for Commonwealth and Asian countries)

As it turns out, athletes from Commonwealth countries won 136 of the 667 'Olympic event' medals at the most recent World Championships. The number for the Asian region was 189/667. This means that among Olympic disciplines, the standard of the Asian region was better with its athletes winning 28.33 percent of the 'Olympic event' medals as compared to 20.38 percent by the athletes from the Commonwealth countries.

However, a careful parsing of the data suggests this gap doesn't tell the whole story.

There are disciplines in which Asian countries far outperform those of Commonwealth nations and others in which they far underperform.

The standard of athletics, swimming, and cycling is far superior at the Commonwealth level. At the 2019 Athletics World Championships, the Commonwealth nations won 42 of a possible 149 medals while Asian countries picked up 17. In swimming, 36 out of 111 medals were won by swimmers from Commonwealth nations in comparison to 13 by those from Asian countries. The numbers for cycling were 17/54 for the Commonwealth countries and just 3/54 from Asian nations.

The numbers reverse elsewhere. The Asian standard in weightlifting (27/36), table tennis (11/12), badminton (19/20) and boxing (36/72) is far superior to the same for Commonwealth countries (who have 0 medals in the 2019 weightlifting and table tennis World Championships, 2/20 at the badminton worlds and 12/72 in boxing World Championships this year).

These numbers suggest that Indian performance at either the Asian or Commonwealth Games can't be taken at face value. Rather than compare tournaments, it would be wiser to compare individual disciplines to get a better understanding of the standard of the competition on offer.