The president of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), Raninder Singh, said the entire coaching staff will be overhauled in the wake of a poor performance of the Indian team at the Tokyo Olympics.
India, who were expected to do well in shooting, are staring at the prospect of two straight Olympics without medals with 25m and 50m events still to go, putting the federation under pressure. Raninder later issued a clarification, saying the ‘post mortem can wait till after the Olympics’.
Will there be a review of the performance here?
The expectation from the federation can’t be that of God. We have done whatever that was humanly possible in the preparation for these Games. We have followed to the T, the recommendations of the committee (after 2016 Olympics). Those were very sound and deep analysis after Rio. At the end of the day, the only thing I can say is I cannot excuse non performance. But I can only say this much: remember most of them are 19 year olds. Some of them have fallen prey to the infamous Olympic pressure. There’s nothing else I can say.
What was the mood at the pre-Olympics camp at Croatia, there were reports of internal wrangling within the team?
There was just one person who was the negative factor in the whole thing. I am referring to Jaspal Rana. Before the tour to Croatia (where the team relocated in May), there was a lot of internal wrangling in the pistol squad among coaches. That was addressed to all by me in person in an eight-page letter I wrote prior to the team leaving for Croatia. Everybody respected that. Now I cannot speak for individuals. We have honoured all our coaches, all our ex athletes including Jaspal. It was I who got him (Rana) into the programme. It is I who has supported him throughout. It’s for reasons best known to him and the athlete concerned, they are unable to work together, well, this is not China we live in. I cannot dictate. They have to be willing to work with each other.
Is it true that when Manu and Jaspal weren’t getting along, Manu sent him a message. He copied that on a white T-shirt and paraded on the range?
It was not a T-shirt, it was a white shirt. I called it out…
Was there any disciplinary action?
When you are in the build-up to the Olympic Games as the head of the family you have to keep the peace.
Did you get the families of Jaspal and Rana together?
I got Manu’s family together with Jaspal but they did not get on. It’s not just Jaspal, the other side also was not willing to work with him because of various instances that they both cited. The girl said something, the family said something, Jaspal in his defence said something. I tried twice — once during the World Cup and once after.
About our performance overall …
Our performance here is not Jaspal’s fault. I can’t hold him responsible for this. I can certainly say it might have had an impact on Manu to some extent because the second best thing I could do is in the whole of India, we have just one coach who can deal with both, 10m and 25m pistol and that is Ronak Pandit, because of his wife Heena Sidhu. She was the same kind of an athlete. He put in a brilliant effort, let me tell you. Don’t let this 186 reflect on his effort because you saw the fightback she gave in the other event. Look, they are young kids.
Do you think, these two years where Indian had done well, the top Chinese, Korean, Europeans and Iranians were not there, so we viewed the results differently.
In 2019, which was the last genuine year of competition, all the Chinese, Europeans … everyone was there. And there we still topped it. I said at the World Cup in Delhi those medals don’t count. It’s of no relevance. 32 medals are all fake because most of them are in non-Olympic events. And secondly, there are hardly any teams there, this was for qualification by ranking. Everybody does not have the kind of support that India and China have and they can’t send their athletes just for match practice. But some top guys did come. 2019 was a very good year for us. We were number 1. This was not our day.
What about team selection?
It has nothing to do with it. It’s absolutely per merit. Everybody had the same chances. Either, you follow merit, or let me then decide that someone should go based on my equation and relations with them. If you follow merit, then you cannot follow anything else. We, at the NRAI, strictly follow merit. Yahaan pe kisiki chalti nai hai (No one can have their own set of rules and diktats here). And the selection process, procedures and the checks and balances that are in place are well known to everyone. The actual policy document is prepared by coaches and athletes.
What would have been the total cost incurred in preparing the team for the Games?
That you have to ask the Sports Authority of India (SAI), I cannot answer that. Beyond what SAI gives us, NRAI also puts in roughly Rs 10 crore a year. For a national federation to do that, it costs me an arm and a leg to send them out from India. During the lockdown the conditions were so poor. Only place to keep these shooters safe was to send them out. We are grateful to the Croatian authorities to allow us in. The athletics team was deported from Amsterdam around the same time for wanting to change a flight. So, we had to get them a direct flight to Zagreb, no other way. We managed all that, we did all we could. I’m sure the shooters too have tried their best. Nobody goes to the Olympics to lose.
Are we going to see an overhaul of the coaching structure?
We are going to see an overhaul of the Indian coaching team staff for sure. We are no longer going to be held to ransom. The period of ransom is over.
What do you mean by period of ransom?
What will be the nature of evaluation?
Everybody will be evaluated. You think it is only the athlete who will be evaluated? Even I will be evaluated as the president of the NRAI. No one is indispensable.