Why is nobody talking about India's first ever ISSF Shooting World Cup victory?
As India slept in the wee hours of Sunday morning, 22-year-old Akhil Sheoran bagged the gold medal that propelled Indian shooting to life and freedom. His win also ensured that India remained at the top of the medals tally of the ongoing ISSF Shooting World Cup in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Later in the day, with Greece's Anna Korakaki clinching the gold in Women's 25m pistol, all hopes of China finishing on top were dashed. China, who are currently on the second spot on the table with two gold medals, cannot possibly eclipse India as there is only one more medal event to go before the World Cup concludes.
Thus, India look set to return from Mexico as first-time winners of an ISSF World Cup stage.
An achievement worth celebrating
Make no mistake, this is perhaps the best performance by India across any sport. The Indian shooters beat Olympic champions, World Champions, World Number 1s outright and with high scores. Sceptics might even say that the shooters have been doping. But in honesty, there is no other individual or team sport (except cricket) where Indians have performed so well at a World Cup.
When contacted, National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) secretary Rajiv Bhatia spoke about how big an achievement it is. "It's a fantastic achievement, mainly by the youngsters. This is the first time we have won so many medals, I mean, four gold medals...the shooters have been fantastic. Apart from the shooters, credit goes to the coaches as well. Their dedication is noteworthy and the way they have pushed these youngsters to perform at such a high level is commendable," he told Sportskeeda.
Indeed, it is an incredible feat. But what is shocking is that no one in the country is even aware that India has just won a World Cup. Of course, the Indian shooting fraternity has heaped praises on the youngsters and also, a few select media houses are covering the event extensively. Yet, at large, the aam aadmi of India do not even know about it!
But shooting is no cricket
Shooting has never really been a 'spectator sport'. The picture of people lining up with guns and shooting at targets from a distance does not appeal to the masses. It is understandable. But an achievement such as this should not go unnoticed.
Imagine India winning the U19 Cricket World Cup. The media goes berserk. There are stories on each individual, every reporter runs to take bytes from even the most inconsequential of members in the squad. Even when a young cricketer breaks some record in a local school-level tournament, that news goes viral.
On the other hand, there is hardly any coverage of shooting. Yes, we do celebrate the occasional Olympic or Commonwealth Games medal but that comes only once in four years whereas every small victory in cricket is celebrated with great pomp.
It is cricket, one can argue. Of course, it is.
A 16-year-old girl, Manu Bhaker, bagged two gold medals. Another 17-year-old girl, Mehuli Ghosh, won two bronze medals. Shahzar Rizvi, competing in his first ever senior World event, not only beat a reigning Olympic Champion but also broke a world record en-route to his gold medal. But who watches shooting?
The federation has a huge role to play
When asked about the issue, former Olympian shooter Joydeep Karmakar said that it was the federation's responsibilty to publicise the sport in India.
"It is the role of the federation to market it properly. But then again, it becomes a 'chicken or egg, which came first?' question. The federation will say if you people can't make it a spectator sport, then how can we popularise it? And we will ask the same question. We are doing our job of performing well and bringing in medals, but you can't sell it to people," he said.
"If the federation can line out a proper plan, definitely we won't be able to mirror the BCCI, but we will be something close to that. Taking that cue, I think, there's a huge potential. The government can't do anything here, the federation has to take a stand," Karmakar added.
Jaspal Rana, who is the junior national team's coach, conceded that most sports in India do not get the recognition it should get. He said, "It's okay, you know. That's the way sports are looked upon in India. We should not complain about it.
"Cricket is at a different level altogether. But, I think, if all the federations start working the way the cricket board works, it will improve. It's all about how the people think, they like to talk about cricket. Nonetheless, I think we are getting there. We are winning medals at major events, which has at least got the media talking. It takes time, but things are definitely getting better."
Bhatia, though, refused to look at the negative aspect saying that now the situation is much better than what it was previously. "I think a few years back, that was the case...there was a total blackout. But now, some media houses have started covering shooting, especially the major events. So, it's definitely picking up, than what I have seen earlier," he said.
Maybe, it is picking up. But the very fact that no one is talking about this latest achievement in Indian sports is alarming in itself.