The year 2022 is going to be a big year for Indian sport.
What could be bigger after a prolific Olympic and Paralympic year, you ask yourself? The take-off of the many foundations laid in 2021, naturally.
The Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Women’s World Cup of Hockey (and the Asian Cup before that), the World Track and Field Championships … these will be the next chapters of scripted historical exploits this year.
It will also be a crucial year for international sport … Cricket World Cups (ODI women, T20I men), a FIFA World Cup in winter in Qatar, difficult Winter Olympics in Beijing, a season grudge races in Formula 1 and the latest edition of the pesky Grand Slam-GOAT race in tennis. A number of big events pushed back from 2020 and 2021 are also set to take place, making it a busy year.
With so much sports action lined up, it can be difficult to choose the main events and talking points to focus on. Don’t worry, here’s our handy guide on what to look out for. Subject to the C word of course.
AFC Women’s Asian Cup – January
An important tournament for the Indian women’s football team, which goes beyond results. Since this happened in India, there has been an effort to better support the women’s team. A new coach, frequent trips abroad – including against formidable Brazil – and a chance to play against the best continental teams will only be an advantage for the young team.
Honorable mention: FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup – October
The foundations of Indian women’s football are laid at the level of age groups, the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, postponed twice, which should finally be held this year in India.
Winter Olympics — February
Although India’s participation is limited to a single Olympian, there is also a record. Alpine skier Arif Mohammed Khan became the first Indian athlete to qualify for two different events (slalom and giant slalom) of the Winter Olympics.
World Athletics Championships – July
Now that India has an Olympic athletics champion, the postponement of the world championships has greater significance. All eyes will be on Neeraj Chopra wherever he competes, but for the javelin thrower, the Worlds in Oregon are the next big goal; something he said shortly after winning Olympic gold.
India have only one medal at the event so far – Anju Bobby George’s 2003 bronze medal – and Chopra will be looking to add more after missing the last two chances. Released in qualifying in 2017 and injured in 2019. The hope, of course, is that more than one Indian will be a true medal contender, and the promising results at this year’s U-20 Worlds are a positive sign.
Commonwealth Games – July to August
Despite the possibility of increasing the medal count, the CWG will not be the primary focus for most Indian athletes this time around, with Asiad (an Olympic qualifier in some sports) taking place shortly thereafter. Hockey teams have already been withdrawn while shooting and archery have been withdrawn from the program.
But a unique new experience has also been added – 2022 will see cricket at the CWG. T20 women’s cricket in particular and India are expected to send a full contingent. It will be a big draw as well as a hope for a medal for India.
There might be fewer medals this time around due to the lack of shooting but still expect a good show in Birmingham. Subject to qualification and contingent Indian pitches, Olympic sports to watch will be badminton, table tennis, wrestling and boxing.
Asian Games – September
This is the big one for India. It’s a little earlier than expected, with the euphoria of the last multisport event lingering on. But the Asian Games, which will be held in Hangzhou, China, will be both a boost and a test for Indian sport: build on the performance of the Olympics, to continue the momentum created in 2021.
Asiad 2018 has been huge for India with a number of breakthroughs, most of which have been incorporated into the upcoming Olympic cycle. The aim will also be to establish a platform before Paris 2024. This time there will also be athletes from Oceania in certain sports which use the Games as an Olympic qualification.
Beware of all the names of Indian stars in action – track and field, hockey, shooting, badminton, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, table tennis – every major Olympic sport carries the hope of a higher ground from the perspective of ‘an Indian fan. In addition, Asiad will also see Indian Kabaddi teams in action after a long period; and a more hungry version after missing the gold last time around.
Side note: Watch out for new Olympic sports and e-sports in this edition.
Asian Women’s Hockey Cup (qualifying) and World Cup – January and July
The Indian Women’s Hockey Team was our Team of the Year in 2021. What they accomplished at the Tokyo Olympics was worthy of a Bollywood biopic – Chak De! India in fact, as then coach Sjoerd Marine said.
Next is the Chak De coil tuning! –The World Cup. First of all, India will have to qualify for the Asian Cup event at the start of the year. With new coach Janneke Schopman at the helm, Rani Rampal and Co now have the task of supporting the revolution they started as they fought against all odds to reach the bronze medal game. Pay attention to this team in every game, but even more so in a year that will be important for Indian hockey.
Also note: the women’s and men’s hockey team will be seen in action in the FIH Pro League, which will be crucial in terms of quality playing time.
FIFA World Cup – November to December
A Men’s World Cup in an Arab country in winter is sure to make the tournament even more unpredictable. Will he come home, go back to South America or stay in Europe, what will happen to the top leagues with a World Cup in the middle of the season? So many questions! The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be a must-see for football fans, but beyond football, it could also be the international swan song for many stars. That’s all we’ll say for now.
Australian Open and other Grand Slam tournaments
In an increasingly impoverished field, all eyes will be on defending champions Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka. While nine-time champion Djokovic is yet to be confirmed to play, Osaka is making a comeback after taking time off for his sanity. If the world No.1 plays, there’s a good chance he’ll break the slam record in men’s singles and beat Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
While not the first Major of the year, Djokovic’s 21st, or his quest, will be a major milestone to watch in 2022. As will Nadal’s return and the clay season. But for tennis fans, there could also be a potentially painful watch with greats like Federer and Serena Williams struggling with injuries. Will the dreaded “end of an era” come in 2022? Will we see a new era, perhaps that of consistency?
What about Indian tennis? In the last Asiad India had a relatively young and prepared group of players other than the veterans of the doubles circuit. But the pandemic has hit sports hard and the hope is that we see some kind of revival this year, with more home tournaments.
The 2021 F1 season ended on a high – when Max Verstappen snatched the world championship away from Lewis Hamilton on the final lap. The controversial nature of the victory left the sports world divided, but ensured a fiery rivalry to ignite the often-unbalanced sport’s next season. Hamilton, now ennobled, will push again for the eighth drivers’ championship which will take him ahead of Michael Schumacher. And this time around, he’ll have a tough fight against a defending champion.
With the way the badminton season ended at the World Championships – two Indians on the men’s singles podium albeit in a small field – it’s hard not to have high hopes. From the expected start of the season at home in India to the many BWF tournaments and the CWGs and the Asian Games, it can be a really successful year for PV Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and Co. All eyes will be on Lakshya Sen and how he climbs the ranks after a medal at the World Championships.