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Shooting federation plans clean-up, sets sights on centralised system

Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, as reported by ESPN, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) announced the setting up of a special committee, to be chaired by Abhinav Bindra, to review shooters' below-par performance at the Games. That process has begun but the committee's mandate suggests the federation is looking for a more centralised structure with greater powers vested within itself.

Among the issues that the NRAI is keen to have the panel investigate are shooters hiring personal coaches, the selection of shooters for multiple Olympics on reputation rather than form and the role of private non-profits - like the now-defunct Mittal Champions Trust, Olympic Gold Quest, Lakshya Foundation, Anglian Medal Hunt and Go Sports - who liase between athlete, federation and sports ministry.

It is understood that the federation would ideally like the panel to recommend that all shooting activity be centralised and under the NRAI's control.

NRAI chief Raninder Singh told ESPN that one of the prime reasons for the shooters' failure to win medals could be allowing them to train with personal coaches - a decision he called a "tactical blunder".

A personal coach is not wholly essential, he said. "A shooter trains with the national coach for four and a half years but once the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme or private sponsorship organisations step in, he/she moves on to work with the foreign coach that they offer. To be trained in a particular style and technique for years and then switch to a brand new approach months before the Olympics affects preparations. In our opinion it's a negative trend and performances have tanked under them."

However, the facts suggest that the most successful Indian shooters of recent years have all had personal coaches. Both Bindra and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who won the silver in Athens in 2004, for instance, worked closely with personal coaches before their Olympic successes. Bindra trained with five-time Olympian Gabriele Buhlmann and Rathore with Australian Russell Mark.

The federation's antipathy towards private coaches is "baseless", former India pistol shooter Jaspal Rana told ESPN. "A personal coach is absolutely essential for a shooter. Of course, you have to ensure that the coach can produce results. What's most crucial is the understanding between the coach and the shooter."

"The concept of an umbrella coach working with a number of shooters makes no sense. An inclusive approach should be adopted wherein personal coaches work in tandem with the national coach. Each shooter should be allowed to choose the coach since it's eventually going to be about how well they work together and deliver results"

Suma Shirur

Shooting is a lonely sport with a pronounced thrust on mental conditioning which makes the athlete's need for a coach's undivided, personal attention vital. Among the coaches who travelled to Rio along with the 12-member shooting contingent include Stanislav Lapidus (who works with Gagan Narang, Chain Singh and Apurvi Chandela), Heinz Reinkemeier (Bindra's personal coach), Ronak Pandit (Heena Sidhu's husband, personal coach and manager of the shooting team) Ennio Falco (national skeet coach), Marcello Dradi (national trap coach) and Pavel Smirnov (national pistol coach).

Jitu Rai, considered one of the biggest medal prospects for India at Rio, did not have a personal coach and trained under Smirnov, who also works with a host of other shooters.

"The concept of an umbrella coach working with a number of shooters makes no sense," says former Olympic shooter Suma Shirur, who travelled to Rio as a private coach to shooter Ayonika Paul. "An inclusive approach should be adopted wherein personal coaches work in tandem with the national coach. Each shooter should be allowed to choose the coach since it's eventually going to be about how well they work together and deliver results."

The NRAI also wants to debate the practice of family members working with shooters as coaches and accompanying them for competitions overseas under the scanner.

Pistol shooter Heena Sidhu for example, trained with her husband, Ronak Pandit, a Commonwealth Games medallist shooter who was also the manager of the whole shooting team. She received Rs 1 crore in financial assistance under the TOP scheme in the run-up to the Games. She finished 14th and 18th in the 10m air pistol and 25m pistol events respectively at the Rio Games, and did not make the final at either event.

Most controversial, perhaps, could be the NRAI's questioning of the role of private sponsorship organisations and calling them a contributory cause for the shooting failure. The committee has been asked to examine the multiple "layers" of preparation brought about by the effect of these organisations with regard to contracting some shooters and offering them funds to train and compete overseas apart from working with mental trainers and short-term coaches.

"Private sponsorship organisations are doing an incredible job with regard to providing personalized facilities for shooters. They are particularly crucial ahead of an event like the Olympics"

Suma Shirur

"We have nothing against private sponsorship organisations since they are providing an essential service," says Raninder, "But the issue here is that in certain cases they have provided private funding for coaching which comes back to the same point of too many layers of preparation. We are not in the know of the credentials of coaches whom they bring on board. In being overzealous and trying to help the athlete are they ending up adversely affecting performance? "

Shirur was dismissive of this notion. "Private sponsorship organisations are doing an incredible job with regard to providing personalized facilities for shooters. They are particularly crucial ahead of an event like the Olympics. If there is one issue they need to address, it is the attention demanded by sponsors; it can be sometimes overbearing for a shooter to have his sponsors always around. It creates a sense of pressure. Having said that, they are doing a great job of supporting the sportspersons through and through."

The proposed panel is also expected to take a "cold and ruthless" look at the reasons why shooters are sent to multiple Olympics though they haven't delivered results, and whether at all they should be fielded again. There's one case from Rio where, the federation could take a large share of the blame - the quota swap ahead of the Games that resulted in Sanjeev Rajput, the only Indian to win a World Cup in 3-Position, being excluded from the team despite earning an Olympic quota. There's one case from Rio where, the federation could take a large share of the blame - the quota swap ahead of the Games that resulted in Sanjeev Rajput, the only Indian to win a World Cup in 3-Position, being excluded from the team despite earning an Olympic quota. Manavjit Singh Sandhu, the only Indian shooter who went to Rio on the basis of a trial instead of a quota berth, did not make it beyond the qualifying round of the trap event.*

*12:57:50 IST, August 25, 2016: The line was changed to accurately reflect Manavjit Sandhu's qualification process for Rio Olympics.