Getting on to centre-stage

It is heartening indeed to relate the recent triumphs of our shooters both in the continental and world class competitions.

A discipline that is generating optimism of picking an Olympic medal at Athens 2004 is shooting. It is heartening indeed to relate the recent triumphs of our shooters both in the continental and world class competitions. Admittedly, the sport has acquired a striking measure of sophistication to stand counted as a force to be reckoned with. But the route to a higher rating, commensurate with the talent and skill projected, demands a more consistent effort and endeavour.

What the National Rifle Association of India has succeeded in achieving is to underline the fact that no more is the sport elitist. True, it continues to be expensive, demanding resources, time, energy and well-equipped ranges. But many avenues have opened up to attract talent from all strata of life unlike the early years when this sport was seen as good enough only for the princes and the armed forces personnel.

To say that shooting has taken centre-stage as a discipline that can bring the country medals only recently would be incorrect. Even in the 60s, Indian shooters had carved a niche for themselves. In fact, the icon of that time was the handsome Dr. Karni Singh, Maharaja of Bikaner, who almost clinched a gold at the World Championship in Cairo in 1962.

That he had to fight with Russia's Zemenkov for 100 targets for two days in the tie-breaker in the clay pigeon event — his forte — underscores his proficiency at that level.

Not only was Karni Singh the bulwark of the sport in five Olympics, five World championships, and numerous international events, he strove manfully to bring into the country the much needed infrastructure. The Olympic shooting range at his palace in Bikaner conformed to the World Shooting Federation's norms. And what more, he created a trust which helped many a shooter of ordinary means to practice and hone the skills. Karni Singh formed an exellent partnership with Randhir Singh of Patiala. It may be pointed out here that Randhir won the gold medal at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok.

What needs emphasis is the commendable growth now both in direction and dimension. Competitions are more, and the talent base has expanded enormously. There is also an appreciable measure of variety capable of matching the best in the continent in competitions, as the recent Asian championships showed in Delhi. If Anjali Bhagwat, an inspector with the CRPF, captured the imagination with a series of medal victories in the Commonwealth Games, shooters like Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore are proving their class among men. It is a pity that Rathore missed an Olympic berth by a whisker but hopes are not lost yet as India is striving hard to get a few more — Anjali has already ensured her place for Athens 2004 — from the forthcoming Asian Championships. It must however be acknowledged that the shooter who made the media turn its attention to this sport was Abhinav Bindra whose proficiency at the Commonwealth championships made him a national hero.

There are no two opinions about the homogeneity displayed by the administration and efficiency achieved in coaching, which area is headed by the result-oriented Sunny Thomas. But there are grey zones too, naggingly persistent. One relates to buying of weapons, whose costs are prohibitive, and the import of cartridges. No doubt, there has been some recognition by the Government to the problem of making available quality cartridges, which again, are expensive for an individual shooter to bear.

As for infrastructure, there is concern that what is available is insufficient to meet the growing demand. Apart from the well-equipped range at Tughlakabad in New Delhi, the others cannot be said to have the facilities to stage a world class event.

There were doubts whether the one which came up at Hyderabad was in line with the specifications desired by the NRAI.

The IOA President, Suresh Kalmadi, has been stressing, and rightly so, that if a country has to reach a high place on the medals tally it can happen only through individual events like athletics, swimming and shooting. It may be relevant to quote here from what Dr. Karni Singh wrote in his memoirs, From Rome to Moscow, — " If I were asked whether priority should be given to cheap housing, more jobs, village schools and hospitals in place of Clay Pigeon shooting, I would naturally give the former higher priority......Yet, when millions are spent yearly on sports by AICS, State Sports Councils and private organisations, merely to keep 10 Trap shooters in good practice in a nation of 650 millions is not asking for too much.''

After 23 years there is still some meaning in what the ace shooter has pointed out, for the Government to pay more attention to this discipline.