Why India does not produce more Abhinav Bindras (Commentary)

August 11th, 2008 - 8:45 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Abhinav Bindra
By Pupul Dutta
New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) India may rejoice over Abhinav Bindra’s golden feat at the Beijing Olympics but shooters - and ex-shooters like me - know it is not easy to achieve wonders in an expensive sport where individuals are mostly left to fend for themselves. Though the Sports Authority of India (SAI) recruits foreign coaches and conducts national camps for those with talent, only a handful survive to make it big in the country - let alone represent the nation at the international level.

In my own case, a possible career in shooting - where I have won the silver medal at the national championships - was cut short the day my pistol was stolen from the New Delhi railway station.

I was 15 years old then, a student of the Sophia Girls School at Meerut, and a member of the Uttar Pradesh shooting team. My desire was to make it big nationally. The pistol I lost had cost my father Rs.65,000 - a huge sum for a middle class family.

With no one to buy me another pistol, the theft effectively ended my shooting dream.

Of course, the sports ministry gives out grants but much of this is spent on paying the foreign coaches. Shooters - like their poor hockey cousins - get only ammunition and free boarding and lodging besides consultancy from coaches.

If a shooter does not have a weapon or loses one, there is no one to bail her out. The Karni Singh shooting range in Delhi does rent out a few weapons but these are archaic compared to what is used in the Olympics.

For someone who aspires to emerge on the top but with limited financial means, it can be a bumpy road. A box of pellets, or ammunition used in air rifles and pistols, cost Rs.500 some four years ago - when I finally gave up shooting.

I was in many ways lucky. Before I got to represent Uttar Pradesh, I was part of what was known as Infantry Kids - made up of children of military personnel who were into shooting. When my father was attached to the army, I could practice and fire as many shots as I wanted before state or national championships.

Innumerable Indians are not that fortunate.

For many sportspersons who come into shooting from small towns or villages, firing even 20 rounds a day is a luxury. And that cannot help you get into the global league.

Although Abhinav Bindra comes from an affluent Chandigarh family and had a shooting range right in his backyard, one cannot in any way take away the credit from him for winning the gold for India. He had grit, determination and the will to win.

Predictably, money has already started pouring in for Bindra. As the country celebrates the momentous event and governments and others announce huge cash awards, some pressing questions need to be asked - and answered.

Such rewards are certainly encouraging. But why does the government shy away from investing in more such shooters who have immense potential but fail to forge ahead due to lack of amenities and funds?

(Pupul Dutta, a journalist with IANS, was a silver medallist at the National Pistol Championships at Ahmedabad in 2000. She can be reached at pupul.d@ians.in)

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