Immediate restart is not in the plans, says NRAI secretary general
“We cannot set a date, as of now. The pandemic has taken such a shape that any date we look forward to might get pushed back, again,” D. V. Seetharama Rao, secretary general of the National Rifle Association of India, said.
There will be guidelines in place, once the ranges are open. Although they haven’t been finalised, India’s celebrated pistol guru Jaspal Rana predicted installation of plastic and glass barricades. “A glass pane or a plastic sheet, of maybe one or two metres in length, might be thought about, so that the virus, if there, stays there. Just by leaving one or two lanes won’t help,” he said.
The National Rifle Association of India, on June 26, shortlisted 32 shooters who will be undergoing training for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. The national body, however, is yet to chalk out a training scheme, and finalise a venue or date. And D. V. Seetharama Rao, secretary general of the NRAI, is in no hurry to give a new impetus to the restart of the sport, either. “We are trying our best along with the Indian Olympic Association and Sports Authority of India to revive practice as soon as possible but it all must be conducive. We are having regular meetings on Zoom. We cannot even put a single athlete at risk. If we rush things, the ranges will become a breeding ground for the virus,” said Rao, also a shotgun marksman who competes regularly in national championships.
“We cannot set a date, as of now. The pandemic has taken such a shape that any date we look forward to might get pushed back again. It is not possible to even call people to the office or the Karni Singh Shooting Range until public transport starts functioning normally,” he said.
NRAI secretary Rajiv Bhatia, on the other hand, was hopeful that there could be some clarity on July 15 regarding the restart. “We have convened a meeting of the governing body on July 15 to review the situation and finalise on SOPs of reopening activities. We might get some clarity then.”
Official confirmation pending, most stakeholders believe the Karni Singh Shooting Range might play host to the camps. “Delhi, with its facilities and relative accessibility for most, is always a preference. However, we have backup options in mind as well, in case the need arises,” said Bhatia.
India’s celebrated pistol guru Jaspal Rana concurred the Tughlakabad range is well-equipped to organise the camp but he added a caveat. “We do have well-equipped ranges in Delhi and Mumbai, but sadly, those are the places which are seeing the highest number of COVID-19 cases. So, to travel to those regions will not be a good idea at all.”
Mehuli Ghosh, who had a malfunctioning SCATT system at home, is happy to be back at the range. “I was quite surprised to score 106.2 off the first 10 shots, after so many days,” she said excitedly.
The NRAI sprung into action as soon as the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 25 to fight the coronavirus crisis. The combined efforts of SAI, the Olympic Gold Quest programme and the federation saw the shooters getting electronic, ISSF-approved SIUS Ascor targets delivered at their homes. Makeshift ranges, multiple unofficial online tournaments and regular SAI-conducted online tutorials followed.
“If there was nothing happening at their homes, then a haste regarding a restart would have been understandable. And we were hurrying at the beginning of the lockdown when we started getting them electronic targets. But now, we have a year’s time and that is a lot,” says Rana.
There will be guidelines in place, once the ranges open. Although they haven’t been finalised, Rana predicted installation of plastic and glass barricades. “A glass pane or a plastic sheet, of maybe one or two metres in length, might be thought about, so that the virus, if there, stays there. Just by leaving one or two lanes won’t help.”
In a discipline where focus and utmost concentration are imperative, how difficult would it be for a shooter, in the post COVID-19 world, to adapt to the changes and still maintain a good scoresheet? World No. 2 in 10m air pistol Abhishek Verma says, “Yes, it will be difficult to keep track of all the new guidelines and continue shooting. After all, we have to have ourselves completely in the game while we are at it. But, in a way, change is constant. We have to keep adapting.”
One of the shooting academies, which has already started functioning is that of Joydeep Karmakar, Olympian and coach of young talent Mehuli Ghosh. “We decided to reopen our branch at Bally in Howrah on June 11. However, we made sure we took all necessary precautions. We sanitised the range. There’s thermal screening too. We ensured that the parent accompanying the shooter sits outside the range in a designated spot where there are chairs kept at a considerable distance apart from each other. We also made the shooters sign a health declaration form,” he said.
Mehuli, who had a malfunctioning SCATT system at home, is happy to be back at the range. “I was quite surprised to score 106.2 off the first 10 shots, after so many days,” she said excitedly.
Her mother says she was not hesitant to send her daughter outdoors amid the pandemic. However, Tokyo quota holder Manu Bhaker’s father Ramkishan is not eager to let his daughter venture outside. “There is absolutely no question of me being eager to let my daughter attend any camp. The numbers are rising everyday, thus far. Health is top priority.”
Though an immediate restart is not in the plans, NRAI is well-equipped to handle the resumption whenever it happens, said Rao. “We are a well-oiled machine. Even though we are not pushing things now, it wouldn’t take us much time to get things going. Within a short time, we can put things in place and will follow all the guidelines set by SAI and the Ministry of Health,” he assured.