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Few changes in sight despite shooting review panel report

Ravi Choudhary/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

A month since the Abhinav Bindra-led National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) review panel submitted its recommendations seeking a systemic overhaul following Indian shooters' underwhelming show at the Rio Olympics, little has changed. The coaching staff remains unchanged, while Nationals continue to be conducted the way they have always been. While NRAI chief Raninder Singh had suggested the setting up of a second panel within 48 hours of the report submission to oversee the implementation of the proposals, details of both the panel and the intent of execution remain sketchy. "It's not that there's a compulsion to have a second panel," Raninder says. "It's just that we think it would be a good idea. Our silence should not be misinterpreted as inaction. In its report, the review panel noted that the Nationals should be seen as an 'aspirational' event and to ensure better quality, the present qualification cutoff score should be upwardly revised.

The recommendation, though, is yet to make it beyond paper. Participating in the recently-concluded shotgun Nationals in Jaipur, Raninder finished with silver in the men's trap event behind four-time Olympian Manavjit Singh Sandhu. "While the willingness to introspect and allow criticism on part of the federation must be appreciated, the fact remains that little has been done so far to implement the suggested changes," says Manisha Malhotra, who was part of the four-member review panel chaired by Abhinav Bindra.

Citing the instance of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Manisha added that if the cricket body does eventually implement the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha panel to overhaul its structure, it would set a much-needed precedent for other national sport federations.

"When I spoke to the NRAI president two weeks ago, he assured me that details of the panel which is to oversee implementation would be announced shortly, but there has been no word on that front yet," she added. Among the gamut of changes proposed by the panel, include the appointment of a high performance manager, not part of the NRAI, who would coordinate between the shooters, coaches, NRAI and SAI and a committee of experts for picking national coaches.

Clarifying the NRAI's stance, Raninder told ESPN that some of the measures would require a "considerable" amount of time for implementation.

"The process for change in coaching staff has begun but it will take time to reach where we desire to arrive. After all, top coaches are hardly available a dime a dozen both domestically and internationally. As far as the appointment of a high performance manager is concerned, the job description has been finalised and we will be advertising for the position shortly." Raninder's observation with regard to the difficult task of finding quality coaches at this time though is not too far from the truth. Almost all the top international coaches have possibly been signed up by other countries ahead of the Olympics, since the usual practice is to keep close tabs on contracts of high-profile coaches, initiating negotiations with them a few months before their existing contract with a particular national federation is to end with the Games. The introduction of mixed-gender events has also put the federation in a bit of a pickle, suggests Raninder, adding that they are still awaiting answers from the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).

"We would have to revise our calendar of trials and camps given the new mixed events and we're still unsure as to how long the three events (double trap men, 50m prone men and 50m pistol men) which have been dropped can continue for," he said. In the aftermath of India's below-par show at the Rio Games, the NRAI was, in fact, the only national sports federation to set up a panel to help look into the reasons for its athletes' far from flattering performance.

The second panel, which would oversee the implementation of the recommendations, Raninder assures, would be nominated after the national squad is constituted following the Nationals.

The Nationals (rifle & pistol) are scheduled to be held in Pune from December 12-26.