Show shooters respect and decide how coaches are picked for the Paris Olympics

Manu Bhaker
Manu Bhaker (PC: G Rajaraman)

One of the longest and back-breaking exercises undertaken by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) involves the elite shooters aspiring to board the flight to the Paris Olympics. The way the NRAI has put in place four trials in New Delhi and Bhopal is a typical effort to ensure “the best” are selected. After all, 20 quota places sealed until now means expectations from fans are soaring.

Perhaps, Harpreet Singh, the personal coach of Anish Bhanwala put it in right perspective when he spoke to RevSportz on Saturday. “You don’t clinch 20 quota places by luck, enormous efforts have been put in by the shooters, the coaches, the NRAI and all the support offered by the Indian government,” he said.

Harpreet is one of the lesser-celebrated coaches, someone who is happy just to be guiding Anish, who “smoked” the first rapid-fire pistol trial final on Friday. Harpreet is not part of the NRAI “national coaches” panel. But then, the choice of Indian shooters these days, Manu Bhaker and Anish Bhanwal is clear, they want to work with men who they trust and have faith in.

Yes, Harpreet has shot for the Indian Navy and India and now works for the Haryana Police as a DSP. How he finds time, take leaves to coach his ward is a story which needs to be told. He is not doing it for money, what he gets as “return” from his prodigy is, the boy comes and touches his feet. It’s reverential.

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Despite coaching and modern methods, where you have mental health experts, physios, sports medicine experts and many more, the coach is still very important. To see two personal coaches – Jaspal Rana and Harpreet deliver — raises questions on the very concept of “national coaches” and if the high performance director, Pierre Beauchamp is really doing something meaningful for the sport.

The tragedy in Indian shooting has been politics, national coaches running down “private coaches” and even shooters they want to “target. This is no exaggeration really. One has to be present at the ranges or talk to the shooters, off the record, to get a fix.

Even during the first trial in rapid-fire, two shooters had technical problems, one with his trigger and another with the grip. The help did not come from “national coaches.” This story is not about the competence of “national coaches” but about what trauma shooters undergo. It is clear, shooters want their choice of coach and mentor, just like PV Sindhu has chosen Prakash Padukone and Vimal Kumar in her bid for a third Olympic medal.

There is no written rule, shooters who have reached a certain standard and performed have to go strictly by what “national coaches” say. For example, in the video interview which RevSportz put out on Saturday, Manu said: “My coach has brought back the smile on my face.” For someone who almost wanted to quit shooting last year, she never thought of ego when she approached Jaspal Rana and said: “Come on, help me pursue my dream.” That’s it, the two have been working together, despite the impediments.


Manu has spoken of how she is in a mental state where she does not worry. The sheer number of Olympic trials, courtesy an ill-planned schedule drawn out by the policy makers in the NRAI makes you wonder if they have given it any thought. Nobody forces the same set of shooters to compete four days in a row. It’s killing.

There are many shortcomings. Anish Bhanwala has decided he will stay away from media, social media and his cell phone. That’s the respect he has for his coach. If you think all this is crazy, one has to rewind to 2016, when Abhinav Bindra was competing in his last Olympics. Almost six months before the Olympics, Bindra had shut himself from the rest of the world.

One of his last interviews was with this writer, before he decided to plunge himself into training at his base in Germany and then move to Rio. Yes, these Indian shooters competing in the trials will also do something similar. For example, Rhythm Sangwan politely refused a media interaction. “I will talk only after all the four trials are over,” she said.

Anish Bhanwala
Anish Bhanwala (PC: G Rajaraman)

The point is, while shooters are aware what they need to do, how is the NRAI going to decide which coaches will got to Paris? Will it be “national coaches”  or some personal coaches as well? Who will decide, the NRAI or the Indian Olympic Association will vet it? Frankly speaking, peronalised coaching is nothing new. Olympic medallists like Abhinav Bindra, RVS Rathore and Gagan Narang also had their own coaches.

Trials for shooters are fine? How about choosing the best coaches, what will be the yardstick? This needs to be answered, for what happened in the Tokyo Olympics three years ago was sheer disaster. A purported “national camp” in Croatia turned out to be a useless exercise. Yes, not everything can be left to the NRAI. Maybe, the Sports Authority of India and even the IOA need to keep an eye on how things should fall in place. Show the shooters respect it’s very important. Do not treat them like cattle.

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