‘A guiding angel’, new rules and selection policy: NRAI president on learnings from Tokyo pain

After the debacle in shooting at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, NRAI president Raninder Singh spoke of the changes adminstered by the federation in a bid to bring about improvement.

Published : Mar 23, 2023 22:24 IST , BHOPAL - 6 MINS READ

Indian shooter Sarabjot Singh at the World Cup. Under new directives, the Indian shooters have been asked not to speak to the media until the end of the tournament.
Indian shooter Sarabjot Singh at the World Cup. Under new directives, the Indian shooters have been asked not to speak to the media until the end of the tournament. | Photo Credit: AM Faruqui

Indian shooter Sarabjot Singh at the World Cup. Under new directives, the Indian shooters have been asked not to speak to the media until the end of the tournament. | Photo Credit: AM Faruqui

For Raninder Singh, the Tokyo debacle was the tipping point. As the painful memories of Rio came gushing back to him on that fateful day in July two years ago, the president of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) made a clean breast of his feelings to journalists at the Asaka Shooting Range.

“At the end of the day, the only thing I can say is I cannot excuse non-performance. We are going to see an overhaul of the Indian coaching staff for sure,” he had said in a fit of rage moments after Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhury’s surprise ouster from the 10m air pistol mixed team event.

The 10m events, then, were considered India’s best bets for medals. Raninder, high on emotions, had momentarily forgotten that Indians were yet to take to the lanes in 25m pistol and 50m rifle 3 positions events. Anyway, the 15-member side returned empty-handed after all.

The promised overhaul came. And went away as swiftly as it had come. It took the NRAI only four months to reinstate almost all of the sacked coaches. “We realised the technical aspect is fine – the training, coaching and all of that. What is much more important for our athletes is that now we have a very strong group, which is deeply involved with our athletes,” Raninder tells  Sportstar on the sidelines of the ongoing ISSF World Cup in Bhopal.

And this is precisely where Dr. Pierre Beauchamp, a former McGill University varsity hockey player and coach, comes in. In Beauchamp, Raninder is convinced to have found the guiding angel. Now the high-performance director of the Indian shooting team, Beauchamp commands whole teams, each specialised in a different discipline of the sport, namely pistol, rifle and shotgun.

Raninder says, “In Tokyo, we had 15 athletes and about nine of them had been number ones and twos of the world. They were right up there. And then they suddenly crashed. It was all very clear. The mental capability to weather extreme pressure wasn’t there. The Olympics are a different ball game. Our kids have done so well.  Wahi pistol, wahi target... (It was the same pistol and the same target) I didn’t get it.

File image of NRAI president Raninder Singh.
File image of NRAI president Raninder Singh. | Photo Credit: Nicolo Zangirolami

File image of NRAI president Raninder Singh. | Photo Credit: Nicolo Zangirolami

“We used to rely on TOPS’ (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) mental training earlier. But we’ve now made it mandatory. We are focusing on the heads (sic). And very acutely. It’s a very scientific thing. I didn’t realise it at first. I thought they are like psychologists; they sit down and talk to people. But no. You get bio-feedback. They go into all kinds of things and it’s an eye-opener, the whole system. I am seeing this for the first time. The full high-performance team has specified roles, focused aspects to it. But those things are what are going to bring about change. As far as talent is concerned, we are still there at the highest level.”

Incidentally, under Beauchamp’s directive, the shooters are now declining to interact with the media. They have been asked to hold their silence until the last day of competitions in a tournament except for conversations in the mixed zone. “Dr. Pierre believes speaking to the press ahead of and during a tournament will get into the athlete’s head. He had said he didn’t want athletes to be pulled into various agendas, politics and factions,” a source at the NRAI revealed.

One of the shooters at the ongoing Bhopal WC even refused to answer a simple question related to his fitness. Even after being assured that it wasn’t for an interview, he said: “I can’t be seen talking to you at all. Not even a few words. I am sorry. Please understand.”

There were other changes as well during the extended period of soul-searching post the forgettable trip to the Japanese capital – new rules and regulations were introduced, there was on-boarding of new backroom staff, and the focus was shifted to infrastructural growth to help popularise the sport among others.

Among the myriad new entries to the book of laws is a new selection policy for the upcoming iteration of the Summer Games. It does away with the practice of looking at consistency over a four-year Olympic cycle, focusing instead on a shooter’s form in the Olympic year. The ‘Olympic Selection Trials’ (OST) were introduced, a series of four competitions to be organised in 2024. The mean value of the top three scores of a shooter in these contests will be considered towards the Final Average Score (FAS), which will determine qualification for Paris. A shooter with an Olympic quota will have 0.33 points added to the FAS.

“We want to know what is the current position (of an athlete). We want to remove the padding… the bonus points (previously awarded by NRAI to shooters for winning a quota), this and that. You don’t get to know how good a guy actually is. There was no other way. And it’s fair because it’s not just for one person. It doesn’t take away anything from it (an Olympic quota). In fact, it adds to it. What it does is, it keeps the quota open right until the end. It is more democratic, transparent, and realistic. You cannot shirk or hide behind some high score, maybe 29 months ago, although you have rubbish coming out today. Because then you just go to the Olympics and shoot rubbish. That can’t happen,” Raninder says, explaining NRAI’s call.

Raninder is also confident that shooting will always have talent in huge abundance. “480,000 CBSE schools have 30 per cent marks in Physical Education and one of the sports you can pick up is shooting. I don’t have the census but I think some 2 million kids are shooting air rifle and air pistol. That’s where the base is coming from. It’s fantastic.”

There was a time when shooting ran into troubled waters with the Commonwealth Games Federation, but Raninder is glad it is back on the CWG programme for Victoria 2026. Working together with the newly-elected president of the ISSF, Luciano Rossi, Raninder has more big plans and hopes.

“It has been very difficult and we hit dead-ends everywhere; this guy (pointing towards NRAI’s senior vice-president Kalikesh Singh Deo) and me as well. But yes, it is very good news (return of shooting in the CWG programme)… And (the appointment of Rossi) is good news for India. A friend of ours is helping us… So, this time, we should be able to take between 14-16 athletes in the Olympics. God willing, we should have a much better Olympics than we had in the last two.” 

Interestingly, India had voted against Rossi during the election at the ISSF General Assembly on November 30, 2022.

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