Five years ago, when the Indian shooting squad returned empty-handed from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) planned to overhaul training as well as a coaching system to improve the performance of the elite shooters at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
On Monday, halfway through the shooting competition of the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games in Japan, the NRAI president Raninder Singh raised the red flag, hinting at overhauling the system one more time. This time, he categorically pointed out to the coaching department for failing to train the Indian shooters to deliver on the big stage.
Needless to say, it was not taken well by the coaching staff and one of them (a national level coach) retorted back (in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda), saying:
“Why blame the coaching department? Everyone associated with the preparation should be held accountable for the discouraging performance at the ongoing Tokyo Olympic Games. Even the NRAI selection panel and the president should be responsible for the poor show in Tokyo.”
In 2016, post the Rio Olympic Games, a four-member panel chaired by Abhinav Bindra, Beijing Olympic champion in men’s 10m rifle event, had pointed out in its review report the lack of a system for poor performance at the Summer Games.
“There is no system in place to support talented shooters to deliver the goods at the right time. Lack of coordination among all the stakeholders is missing,” the Abhinav led panel said in its 36 page report to the NRAI.
Accountability in the coaching department was one of the main points Abhinav's lead panel had recommended post Rio Olympics.
The report sent to the NRAI was not given priority
Subsequently, some of the recommendations made by Abhinav’s led panel were overlooked as the Indian shooters won nine medals, two of them gold at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. The coaches received credit, including financial rewards, as per the policy of the central government.
The NRAI's belief in the system got further ingrained at the end of the 2019 Tokyo Olympic qualification period. Fifteen Indian shooters, including two in the men's skeet event, won Olympic quota places. The NRAI team management was excited as it was an improvement on the 12-shooters number who had qualified for the Rio Olympic Games.
In March, the NRAI team management was excited as Indian shooters won a rich haul of 30 medals, 15 of them gold at the New Delhi’s ISSF World Cup. It gave a forecast of a good performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games which were just over four months away.
However, the atmosphere became unhealthy in the final Tokyo Olympic preparatory camp that started on May 13 in Zagreb, Crotia. Reports from Zagreb emerged that coaches in the camp are squabbling over petty issues like giving preference to a particular shooter, which has created a rift in the team.
“Some coaches had the notion that we have good chances of winning medals in the mixed team at the Tokyo Olympics. Coaches even tried to make changes in formation of the mixed team event by having their favourites in the team. The exercise inadvertently put pressure on the other shooters as they felt their names would be struck off the team,” said a coach who was with the national team in Zagreb.
Post the 2016 Rio Olympics, in its review report, the four-member panel had also criticized personal coaches associated with the Rio Olympic training camps. Incidentally, the same coaches were also in the Tokyo Olympic preparatory camp.
The issue of coaches fighting to push their favorites in a mixed team got dirty. Internal scores of rifle shooters at the camp in Zagreb were leaked to the public.
" This added more feud to the already boiling pressure in the camp. If an in-house report or activity is out in the public domain that too when the Olympics are just around the corner, it is not a good thing to happen,” added the national coach.