Indian shooting on the upswing

August 18th, 2008 - 5:04 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Abhinav Bindra
By Abhishek Roy
New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) Two back-to-back Olympic medals in a sport dominated by the Americans, Russians and Chinese, made shooting overnight a major sport in India, no longer only a nefarious pastime. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore’s silver medal at the Athens Olympics four years ago made people sit up and take note of the sport and now the country’s first-ever individual gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra has made young men and women keen to choose shooting as a sports career option.

One thing is for sure. Shooting is still not a popular sport. The best equipment is in the reach of the aristocrat or the folks from military and para-military services. Till the system is in place, the country will have to depend on the odd sparks from the Rathores and Bindras. If there is a system, the shooters would not be crying or scrounging for ammunition.

But with all the shortcomings and perennial hurdles, if nine shooters could make it to the Beijing Olympics and that, too, not by gratis but by coming through a qualifying system, they have to be really good shooters.

In a precision sport like shooting, the end result is not the right index to judge a performance. Bindra put it in perspective when he said it was his day and he could win. For good measure Bindra has also added though he performed much better in Athens, he failed to win any medal by finishing seventh.

Bindra, who is also the first Indian to win a world championship, has got near identical victorious there as well as at Beijing. At the Zagreb worlds, he needed 10.4 from his final shot and he struck 10.7 and at Beijing he needed a 10.7 from his last shot and he found 10.8.

It is quite obvious, Bindra did not prepare for a celebratory speech, spoke naturally and like a true sportsman. His chosen words were more or less the same at both Zagreb and Beijing.

He also spoke for others in the shooting team. Trap shooters Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Mansher Singh and rifle shooters Gagan Narang, Anjali Bhagwat, Sanjeev Rajput, Avneet Kaur Sidhu and pistol man Samresh Jung may not have won a medal, but they have done enough to inspire an entire generation of shooters.

What happened to Narang in Beijing buttresses what Bindra said about his own showing. Narang had a good preliminary round and the difference between him and Bindra was of only one point. But Narang was unfortunate because he was tied with four shooters and after a count-back he failed to make the final.

Where do Indian shooters go from here? Bindra’s answer may sound too simple and mundane when he says the game should be developed at the grassroots level. Then he adds there is a world of difference between how the other countries prepare for major events and the Indians. That’s because there’s no programme in place.

What he did not say is that Rathore, a colonel in the army, was a product of the army’s programme to encourage outstanding sportspersons and he himself is where he is only because of his father’s uncompromising perseverance and resilience besides wherewithal.

Senior Bindra sunk his money in a bottomless pit, as it were, in providing every facility for his son, including an air-conditioned shooting hall at his Chandigarh home. What is more, young Bindra made Germany his home for training and travelled around Europe competing.

It is to Bindra’s credit that he won both the world championship and the Olympic medal after recovering from a debilitating back trouble. It should inspire any sportsperson aiming high.

Bindra’s fond hope is that his achievement would be the harbinger of bigger things. He expects some positive changes to take place. He dedicated his gold medal to all his fellow athletes to inspire them.

Even while saying that shooting needed unstinted support from the State and shooters required corporate sponsorship, Bindra has not forgotten to compare Olympic disciplines with cricket. He is right that if only Olympic disciplines get the kind of patronage cricket gets, shooters too will prosper.

Slowly but surely corporate money is trickling into sport other than cricket. If a business tycoon like Lakshmi Narayan Mittal could set up a Mittal Champions Trust to support shooters, boxers, archers and athletes, others too can chip in without always expecting something in return by way of mileage.

Sporting icons Prakash Padukone and Geet Sethi have decided to do their bit and Narang was a beneficiary of their Gold Quest project and he can prepare for the 2012 London Olympics without worrying who will be footing the expenses of his next trip to a competition.

Double world record holder and double trap shooter Ronjan Singh Sodhi, who missed the Olympic ticket by a whisker, felt it is time for the sports federations and the government to have working arrangement to promote sports in the country. The state’s job is to create infrastructure and the corporate sector should pump in money with an accountability clause thrown in.

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