Training his guns on Commonwealth Games

“The government has made things easier for pursuing the sport of shooting, but it still remains accessible only to a privileged few in India. Rules regarding importing of sporting weapons need to be relaxed,” says Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in a chat with Kalyan Ashok.

Until 2004 shooting was regarded as an expensive sport in India, a pastime of the rich and the influential. Of course the men in uniform also had access to it. But to make it viable nationally, it needed an exemplary performance from Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Army, who shot into fame with a silver medal-winning performance in the men's double trap event at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Indian shooting has looked up ever since, with Abhinav Bindra winning the nation's maiden gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Rathore would have been a cricketer if he had not been a shooter though he says that he preferred individual sport where he could pit himself against others.

With a strong will and focus, the soft-spoken shooter has achieved it all, winning medals galore in meets such as Asian clay shooting (2003 to 2005), World Championship (2003-04) and Commonwealth shooting in 2009. Following his silver medal-winning performance at the 2004 Olympics, Rathore was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna.

Rathore has now set his sights on the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in October. The shooter, who is training in the U.S. in preparation for the event, was in Bangalore recently and spoke to Sportstar on Indian shooting and his plans.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: How is your preparation for the Commonwealth Games going?

I am training hard for the Commonwealth Games. I do hope the sporting environment in India becomes conducive to higher sporting performance for all the athletes preparing for the Games.

Has the NRAI (National Rifle Association of India) gone about its coaching camp and selection in the right manner?

As shooters/sportsmen who need to perform, we can but speak once and then whatever the circumstances get back to training in the prevailing situation. I believe that in the end truth and hard work will triumph whatever field one may be in.

What needs to be done to encourage shooting at the grassroots level?

Undoubtedly the government has made things easier for pursuing the sport of shooting, but it still remains accessible only to a privileged few in India. Rules regarding importing of sporting weapons need to be relaxed. These are not in the category of combat weapons and thus the premise of public safety in restricting their import is like saying that household knives in the kitchen need to be put on the restricted import list.

Shooting is yet to capture the imagination of the public despite the achievements of people like you, Bindra and others. What needs to be done to get the crowds to watch the sport? How to make shooting more friendly for spectators and the media?

Shooting is very popular abroad. Just as any other sport, shooting is accessible to ordinary citizens. There are various ways to make shooting draw crowds. Some of us shooters have great ideas to promote the sport, but being active sportspersons we cannot get fully involved in the organisational, administrative and promotional activities. I guess it's just a case of the right people with a common cause getting together.

What's your advice to young shooters?

Resources, guidance and passion are the key ingredients to success in the sport of shooting in our country.

Your future goals...

I love my country and am driven by my passion to play for India, whatever the sport. Right now it happens to be the sport of shooting, tomorrow it might be something else.

Does mental strength play a role in shooting?

Mental strength is required for any competitive performance at any level. Shooting is however a sport that involves competing against the toughest opponent — your own fear. Hence mental strength is of supreme importance.

What are your other interests?

I love music, movies, playing all sports, hanging out with family and friends and outdoor activities.

Will the Commonwealth Games be a boost to Indian sport?

I am sure India would love to watch its sportspersons win at the Commonwealth Games, and it will happen. It's also an opportunity for keen sportspersons to watch live some good sporting action. The infrastructure has got a boost and if utilised well after the Games it will nurture a lot more talent in our country. The Commonwealth Games also draws attention to sports, fitness and good health. The Games could be a turning point for sports and fitness in our country.

Do you visualise yourself taking up coaching later in your career?

I would like to do for Indian sport what the sport has done for me. I am looking forward to making sports a career choice for talented and potential young Indians. There is a great requirement for a marriage between the corporate world and the emerging sporting prowess of India.