NRAI president says "everyone will be evaluated" after shooters struggle at Tokyo Olympics

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh said everything "humanly possible" was done to prepare the shooting team for the Tokyo Olympics and that he was perplexed by their performance so far.

Manu Bhaker and Chaudhary Saurabh of Team India and Bomi Kim of Team Korea during the 10m Air Pistol Mixed Team Qualification on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Asaka Shooting Range.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh said everything "humanly possible" was done to prepare the shooting team for the Tokyo Olympics and that he was perplexed by their performance so far.

Suggesting he would take a closer look at the role of coaches after the Olympics, Raninder stated that ‘’the period of ransom is over’’.

Raninder also talked about the conflict between coach Jaspal Rana and Manu Bhaker. The duo had worked together and achieved fabulous success in the last few years.

Raninder said he had to bring Ronak Pandit to guide Manu as he was good in both 10m and 25m events. Raninder conceded that Jaspal’s presence would have helped Manu. However, despite efforts to resolve the discord, the situation was beyond repair, especially with Manu’s family expressing reservations.

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Edited Excerpts

After the Rio Olympics, there was a committee set up to take a stock of what had happened. Is there a plan to set one up again?

No, no. Please understand something. The expectation from the federation can't be [the same] as that from God. We have done whatever was humanly possible in the build-up and preparation for these Games. We have followed to a T, the recommendations of that committee, which was a very sound and deep analysis after Rio. At the end of the day, the only thing I can say is I cannot excuse non-performance. But I can only say this much: remember that most of them are 19-year-olds. They are not adults even yet. Some of them have fallen prey to the infamous Olympic pressure. There's nothing else I can say. If you see today's performance, for example, there was an Olympic record qualification score. This is not a joke. Then to go 10 minutes later and one of them shoots rather poorly, it's inexplainable in a way.

Can you clarify what was the mood like before the Croatia camp? There were reports of wranglings within the team and regarding coaches...

There was just one person who was the negative factor in the whole thing and I will call it right now. I am referring to Jaspal Rana. Before Croatia, not in Croatia, there was, during the World Cup in Delhi and before that, a lot of internal wrangling in the pistol squad among coaches. That was addressed to all by me in person in an eight-page letter I wrote before the team left for Croatia. Everybody respected that.

Now, I cannot speak for individuals. We have honoured all our coaches, all our ex-athletes including Jaspal. It was I who got him into the programme. It is I who has supported him throughout. It's for reasons best known to him and the athletes concerned, they are unable to work together. Well, this is not China we live in. I cannot dictate that you will do this and won't do that. They have to be willing to work with each other.

Is it true that when Manu and Jaspal were not getting along and she sent him a message, he copied that message onto a shirt and paraded it around?

He copied that on a white shirt and paraded that on the range. It was called out.

Was any disciplinary action taken?

You have to understand that when you are in the build-up to the Olympic Games, as the head of the family, you have to keep the peace.

Is it true you tried to get Manu's family and Jaspal back together?

Got Manu's family together with Jaspal but they did not get along. It's not just Jaspal, the other side also was not willing to work with him because of various instances that they both cited. The girl cited something, the family cited something, Jaspal in his defence said something. I tried twice -- once during the world cup and once after.

Our performance here is not Jaspal's fault. I can't hold him responsible for this at all. I can certainly say it might have had an impact on Manu to some extent because the second best thing I could do is in the whole of India, we have just one coach who can deal with both, 10m and 25m pistol, that is Ronak Pandit because his wife Heena Sidhu [former World No. 1 pistol shooter] was the same kind of an athlete. He put in a brilliant effort, let me tell you. Don't let this 186 reflect on his effort. You saw the fightback she gave in the other event. Look, they are young kids and one of them has failed.

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Did we have false hopes coming into the Games based on previous results? Many top Europeans, Chinese and Iranians were not there in the recent events.

In 2019, which was the last genuine year of competition, all the Chinese, Europeans everyone was there. And there we still topped it. I said at the World Cup in Delhi, this doesn't count. It's of no relevance. Thirty-two medals are all fake because most of them are in non-Olympic events. And secondly, there were hardly any teams... this was for qualification by ranking. Everybody does not have the kind of support that India and China have to send their athletes just like that for match practice. Some did come, some top guys. But I wouldn't say that... 2019 was a very good year for us. We were number 1 in the world. This was not our day.

Are you still hopeful of a medal here?

Absolutely. I'll still say that each one of the athletes shooting is still capable. For example, if Manu had shot a 192, you were in the top match. I mean a 186 is a... I don't know what to say.

If you were to analyse the team selection...

Team selection has nothing to do with it. It's absolutely per merit. Everybody had the same chances. Manu won her slot as per merit, everyone had the same chances. Same in 25m too.

Everyone has been saying that Manu is too young. In hindsight, was it right to pick her for three events?

Yes, I do. Either, you follow merit or let me then decide that someone should go based on my equation and relations with them. If you follow merit, then you cannot follow anything else. We, at the NRAI, strictly follow merit. Yahaan pe kisiki chalti nai hai (No one can have their own set of rules and diktats here). My selection committee has virtually no say. They’re like a rubber stamp. And the selection process, procedures and checks and balances that are in place are known to everyone. The actual policy document is prepared by coaches and athletes.

It's all about the pressure at the Olympics...

Saurabh had the same pressure in the final. He qualifies at No 1. Goes into the final, comes out seventh. Did you see him today? Did he look like he was under pressure? The girl, Manu, felt it today. But you cannot string her up on a lamp post, yaar. I mean, come on!

Were there any specific instructions given to them before the event?

What’s there? There is a coach who counsels. There is a coach who talks. There’s a coach who mentors. Now, if it is the same coach who has been around for 10 years certainly it will be better. But I never fired Jaspal Rana. I never told him to leave. I supported him, I even tried to get them together. At the end of the day, it takes two hands to clap. In addition to what I have said, I must add that Ronak Pandit has done an exemplary job, for the period he has had to work with Manu and in the circumstances he had to come in under. He should be congratulated. I’m not lying to you.

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A lot of things in the build-up to these Olympics were different. Shooters had to leave their families and go outside to train for months. In such circumstances, did the NRAI give these shooters psychological support?

Yes, we did. There was a psychologist and physiotherapist in Croatia. Our entire coaching staff was there with them, people they are used to since a young age. Here it was not possible to get everyone. The IOC and organisers had allowed five accreditations for the shooting contingent. I’ve got IOA to give me seven. One has been used for a physio. Then there are six coaches. Here's how these six coaches have been picked to come here: first is your foreign rifle coach, pistol foreign coach isn’t here because he is a specialist in 25m pistol. However, most of my events are in 10m. So we gave priority to those coaches who have athletes in multiple numbers. First is rifle, then it’s pistol and then it’s shotgun. Shotgun, we have just one coach. At the end of the day, it is very simple. Everyone has done everything humanly and practically possible. Everything was arranged, every aspect was analysed and addressed. But I cannot do the shooting as well.

What would you say is the cost incurred on the shooting contingent over the past two years or so?  

That you have to ask the Sports Authority of India, I cannot answer that. Beyond what SAI gives us, NRAI also puts in roughly Rs 10 crore a year. For a national federation to do that, it costs me an arm and a leg to send them out from India. During the lockdown, the conditions were so poor. The only place to keep these shooters safe was to send them out. We are grateful to the Croatian authorities to allow us in. The athletics team was deported around the same time for wanting to change a flight in Amsterdam. So, we had to get them a direct flight to Zagreb, there was no other way. We managed all that, we did all we could. I’m sure the shooters have tried their best, nobody goes to the Olympics to lose.

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Are you looking at a complete overhaul of the coaching structure?

Yes, we are. We are going to see an overhaul of the Indian coaching team staff for sure. We are no longer going to be held at ransom. The period of ransom is over.

Is it true that when Manu and Jaspal were not getting along and she sent him a message, he copied that message onto a shirt and paraded it around?

He copied that on a white shirt. It was called out.

Are you looking at a complete overhaul of the coaching structure?

Yes, we are. We are going to see an overhaul of the Indian coaching team staff for sure.

Are you talking about only the pistol coaches or the rifle coaches as well?

Everybody will be evaluated. Do you think it is only the athlete who will be evaluated? Even I will be evaluated as the president of the NRAI. No one is indispensable.

Are you under pressure as NRAI chief for the performances of the athletes?

Absolutely. Why shouldn’t I be? I took responsibility last time for it. This time I am at least consciously aware that I have done my best and done everything humanly possible. Therefore, I feel a little less responsible this time. But, it’s my team.

(With inputs from Kamesh Srinivasan)

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