With India having won a record 15 quota places in shooting for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Raninder Singh, the president of the NRAI (National Rifle Association of India) has suggested novel ways to ensure the likely participants face as few distractions as possible in the lead-up to the Games. Among his proposals are having the parents of Olympic shooters, sign a bond wherein they promise not to exploit the athletes while also having the NRAI sign off on sponsorships that he feels might adversely affect them. Singh also added that following past cases of athletes losing their focus while training abroad, all Indian shooters would have to prepare for the Olympics in India itself.
India's shooting contingent includes several young players, including four teenagers. At 17, Divyansh Singh Panwar, who won the quota in 10m air rifle, is the youngest member.
"I need to protect them [shooters] from their families. I have lost Olympic medals in the past because of this [family interference]. I may even ask the family to sign a bond that you will follow the Olympic spirit like they do with the Special Olympic athletes in the U.S.. That you cannot misuse these athletes. You can't put pressure on these athletes for financial gain," Singh said on Friday.
According to Singh, the proposal to regulate the kind of commercial work that shooters participated in was also essential. "They can't go and do what [double trap shooter] Ronjan Sodhi did. Making money and thinking they have won the gold before they have even got there [the Olympics]. I'm not saying you don't sign sponsorships but I don't want you to sell yourself for 50,000 rupees. Come to us, take our permission and then sign. If we see that you are being exploited, we will step in," Singh said.
The NRAI chief said where athletes had already signed contracts, they might have to be voided. "For people who have signed contracts, they will have to unsign them. I'll go to the courts and get a stay. It's not my business to get you contracts and sponsorships but it certainly is my business to protect the athletes from exploitation," said Singh.
While not naming the athlete in question, Singh appeared to suggest one contract signed by Asian Games champion Saurabh Chaudhary was not in the athlete's interest. "There's one athlete who is the World number 1 who has signed a contract with a social media site for two lakh fifty thousand rupees. There are number 15s in the world who are earning 50 or 60 lakhs in the year. How is that justified? Because the poor chap doesn't know. He comes from a humble background and his parents are farmers. He is a 16-year-old boy. What would he know? We have to assist them. That's why we have to get the parents to commit to me that you won't force that child to do something against his interest," Singh said.
Singh suggested that while he would try to convince the athletes of these proposals after the shooting nationals in Bhopal next month, he was committed to the plan. "We have discussed this proposal at various levels. If the athlete objects to it, he gets sent home. These are points that even Abhinav's committe [the five member committee headed by the Olympic gold medallist that was formed to probe Indian shooting's debacle at the 2016 Olympics] has recommended," Singh said.
Singh also added that all athletes who were preparing for Tokyo would have to train in the country. "Everyone is going to train in Delhi. No one is going to train in Japan or Switzerland or Italy. If you want to go to ammunition testing or changing your grip or barrel then yes, we will send you outside. But I want to monitor their progress and keep track of their performance. I want to know how your yoga session went and how you did in your technical training. If there are family issues, I need to be aware of these things. It shouldn't be like last time where we found that there was a shooter who had gone to a nightclub in Florida when he should have been training," Singh added.
While the proposals seemed to be a bit overbearing, the NRAI chief said there had to be oversight of the program at a crucial period. "The athlete isn't an individual now. He is at the disposal of the country rather than the other way around. Everything is on the line [at this Olympics]. The Government has spent 30 crore a year for the shooting program. No one will keep backing us if our sport keeps returning empty handed. It's important that shooting comes back with four medals from there (Tokyo) otherwise our sport will be shut," he said.