Gagan Narang travelled to the Rio Olympics carrying a heel injury. Jitu Rai admitted to not having a ‘working relationship’ with pistol coach Pavel Smirnov. Ayonika Paul tried to ‘access more training funds’ under the sports ministry’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) by naming ‘two different coaches’. And during all this, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) remained a silent spectator, completely unaware of what its shooters were up to.
The Abhinav Bindra-led four-member panel made its report, which was submitted to NRAI last week, public on Wednesday. A glance through it explains why India returned from Rio without a medal in shooting, one of the biggest medal prospects for the country. Scathing in nature, the 39-page report does not spare anyone, highlighting the underlying issues that resulted in the flop show. It primarily focuses on the lack of planning, poor coordination between the federation, athletes and the sports ministry, and the quality of coaching. However, it was particularly critical of the general passiveness on the part of NRAI.
The committee has called for a systematic overhaul, and asked the NRAI to make national camps compulsory for all shooters. However, it also stressed on the importance of having qualified national coaches and raising the quality of the camps.
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According to the report, the NRAI has held just 20 days of camp in the last two years and hasn’t compiled coaches’ report at all.
“As things are now, I wouldn’t go to a national camp. We have to create an atmosphere where a shooter feels he has missed something by skipping a day of the camp. That structure does not exist at the moment,” Bindra said.
The federation has been heavily criticised for virtually doing nothing, even as its president Raninder Singh complained of bureaucratic delays that affects their working. Raninder said they would make 85 per cent attendance compulsory for all shooters and said a high performance manager would be appointed.
The players, too, have not been spared. Bindra recused himself from players’ assessment. However, from seniors such as Narang, Manavjit Singh Sandhu and Heena Sidhu to the rising Ayonika Paul, there were issues with almost every shooter who went to Rio.
The report noted Narang’s coach was categorical that “he did not prepare the best, especially in terms of his physical condition. He was carrying weight and did not have the endurance to finish strong.”
Sandhu was criticised for his “inflexibile” attitude. “He also got into trouble losing a lot of weight in the run-up to the Olympics, which forced him to change the stock of his gun,” the report stated.
His coach Marcelo Dradi said he got negligible time with Sandhu, despite him being in Italy for a considerable duration availing the Rs 1.36 crore he got under TOPS in the last two years.
The committee criticised NRAI for failing to replace Chain Singh — who was hospitalised weeks before the Olympics owing to illness — with an in-form Sanjeev Rajput while pistol shooters Jitu Rai and Prakash Nanjappa complained of a strained relationship with their coach Smirnov.
Among women shooters, it was noted that there were more “psychological issues” with Heena Sidhu, “for lack of clarity of thought.” She has been advised to look into her events in the next year.
However, the committee was highly critical of Paul, saying her “approach to the Olympics shows the flip side of allowing athletes, especially young ones, the power to chalk their own course.”
“The players need to be accountable. We can’t always say they have tried hard and given their best,” convenor of the committee Manisha Malhotra said.
Besides various recommendations, the review committee also suggested that NRAI should invest in creating a strong domestic calendar rather than spending money on “needless” international competitions, a view which did not go down well with the national federation.
“That was not in their mandate so we have not accepted the suggestion to not host international competitions. Apart from that, we accept their report in toto,” Raninder said.
“There is a systematic problem and we will take it up with the Sports Authority of India. When you do funding directly to an athlete, it is very difficult for a federation to monitor,” he said, adding that the role of coaches will be reviewed as well.