GAME PLAN: Shooters, association predictably off-target

Jaideep Ghosh

Rio de Janeiro: The Indian table tennis team at the Olympic Games Village in Rio on Monday, Aug 1, 2016. Photo: PTI

Rio de Janeiro: The Indian table tennis team at the Olympic Games Village in Rio on Monday, Aug 1, 2016.
Photo: PTI

The absolute disaster that was India’s performance at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is now a bad dream the nation has shaken off. All the hue and cry over why and how we ended up being so bad is now something everyone is done with.

Till Wednesday, when a four-member panel, led by Abhinav Bindra, went public with its report on why and how the Indian shooters fared, it’s clear that it was an unholy mess.

The 39-page report is a litany of how not to do things. It has taken on the shooters, for their sheer lackadaisical and cynical approach, and has been categorical about how the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has largely been a silent bystander.

According to this report, Gagan Narang, one of India’s senior-most shooters, travelled to Rio carrying a heel injury, while Manavjit Singh Sandhu had little time for coach Marcelo Dradi.

It seems Dradi got ‘negligible’ time with Sandhu, in spite of the shooter being in Italy for extended periods of time to avail the Rs. 1.36 crore invested in him through the Sports Ministry’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). When he did, Sandhu wasn’t amenable to listening to advice either. The shooter was ‘inflexible’ and weight loss shortly before the Games led to him having to change his grip.

Narang never told the NRAI about his injury and was largely too unfit to sustain an assault for a podium finish.

Indian-contingent-at-Rio-Olympics-2Then there were young stalwarts like Ayonika Paul, who, according to the report, was more interested in milking more funds out of TOPS by naming two different coaches. According to the report, “her approach to the Olympics shows the flip side of allowing athletes, especially young ones, the power to chalk out their own course”.

Among the rest, pistol shooter Jitu Rai barely had a working relationship with coach Pavel Smirnov, while Heena Sidhu had ‘psychological issues’.

The report also mentions the total chaos that is training for shooters in India, citing the total lack of coordination between the various players in the field, including the NRAI, the shooters and the Government.

The NRAI also received a broadside, for its general lack of any control on how things happened.
The NRAI had held just 20 days of camps in two years! Plus, all the above lacunae and misdeeds were either unknown to the association, or glossed over.

In all, it is an absolute mess.

We often were left to wonder about how vocal and upfront out athletes are about the lack of facilities when it comes to lining up for events like the Olympics.

Here we have a situation where the taxpayers’ money is being tossed into the wind as the high-profile shooters, most of them with results inversely proportionate with their demands, being shown up for their general attitude towards the sport and the people who believe in them.

Abhinav-Bindra-lleading-the-Indian-contingent-at-Rio-OlympicsThis is just one example. There are many such associations and athletes, who will crawl out of the woodwork to claim their spot in all the top events, and then fade from public memory for the next three-odd years, or till the next big one.

Events like table tennis, track and field, boxing, judo and others have always made it to the Olympics and Asian games and returned with largely nothing. But unlike this report about the shooters, nothing is ever out in the open.

Even here, the people named, barring maybe an odd exception, have all passed the sell-by dates. It is difficult to see Narang in action at that level again and thankfully Manavjit Sandhu won’t have to be endured either.

Ayonika Paul likely has shot herself out of any future hope while shooters like Heena Sidhu have way too much going for them, off the shooting range to ever be serious contestants.

This also brings into sharp focus the oft-discussed divide between Olympic sports and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

While there has been a lot of hue and cry about how BCCI’s money trail should be monitored closely, how come no one ever asks for accountability for what is real-time taxpayers’ money being wasted on such shooters and like?

The thing is, that the BCCI is a ‘glamorous’ target. While there is no doubt that the goings-on in cricket absolutely need to be sorted out and set straight, it is also no mystery that it is the BCCI’s profile that makes it a target.

Such goings-on are rampant in all the sports associations but precious little is ever done to haul up either the officials and coaches or the athletes.

The report on the shooters is an eye-opener in terms of particulars, but sadly, not such a big surprise. It cannot be that any federation which executes high-end training programmes with efficiency and discipline should end up with such pathetic results.

It just goes to show how much the people of the nation are taken for a ride, every four years.