WION Exclusive| Raninder Singh: Hosting bilateral events only option to keep Olympic team sharp Photograph:( Twitter )
NRAI President Raninder Singh spoke to WION Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo on the way forward for his team and the rocky road to Tokyo 2021.
The Coronavirus Pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Games by exactly a year and India's shooters bore the brunt of that move. The Indian shooting team famously drew a blank at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the National Rifle Association of India, NRAI, was pinning its hopes on redemption at Tokyo. India's shooters dominated the international shooting calendar in 2019 and the expectations were high from a youthful team. With the pandemic still raging in India, national camps are still not being held and international competitions have been written off. NRAI President Raninder Singh spoke to WION Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo on the way forward for his team and the rocky road to Tokyo 2021.
Digvijay Singh Deo: Raninder thank you for joining us, you have been up in the mountains since march and while that is definitely a safe place a busy man like you must be finding it difficult to sit at one place.
Raninder Singh: I have been keeping busy, we have been helping the Punjab government in the fight against the coronavirus. We have helped publish two research papers on how to counter the spread and hopefully, it will aid the Punjab government in controlling the disease. This period has been a great learning experience for me.
DSD: I have been told that you are in touch with your coaches and players on a regular basis so straight up Raninder when can camps begin again?
Raninder Singh: Given today's circumstances, I don't know when that will be possible. Anyone who says otherwise would be irresponsible in making such a statement. It is very unfortunate that the Olympics have been postponed because I believe that our shooters were prepared to surpass all expectations at the 2020 Tokyo games. Nonetheless, nothing is lost, a year's delay shouldn't make that much of a difference. The talent is still there and we must ensure that they remain fit. In terms of shooting this year in India, as things stand, it is very unlikely that domestic competitions will take place. The executive board of the NRAI will hold a meeting later this month and further discuss the possibility of holding national camps. Fortunately, we have plenty of time before the Olympics. Shooting is not a power sport where you need intense muscular training. Our shooters are very professional and they are working with their coaches and physios. Fortunately, most of our athletes have some shooting facility at home. We are looking to begin a camp for the Olympic squad and the plan should be finalised on July 15. The Olympic squad has been announced and we want to put them in the best position to excel at next year's games. I don't think we will see full-fledged international competitions this year because of various constraints that have been imposed by the IOC and governing bodies. However, the NRAI has proposed the holding of bilateral series to keep our shooters in touch with the sport in the lead up to the Olympics, this will depend on the rules that the government of India has in place. All federations and athletes will have to adapt to the new normal now, there is no other choice. I can assure you, if the Olympic games are held next year, our athletes will be in the best possible physical and mental shape to compete.
DSD: You have made it clear that you do not want your shooters to train abroad but surely things change post this pandemic. If training is happening in Europe or Australia why not have a quarantine camp there to ensure your shooters are in the thick of it. There are costs obviously but considering no travel has happened this year isn't that something that can be looked at.
Raninder Singh: It does make sense theoretically to send the shooters abroad, but it is not feasible. I cannot put the health of our shooters at risk while they are representing India. One cannot afford to take the coronavirus lightly. What the NRAI is trying to organise is a highly controlled and quarantined camp for the shooters. It is not practical to send our shooters abroad because there is no competition happening in other countries as well. We have to make the best of the situation and we will come up with something that involves domestic competition. Our Olympic athletes have plenty of time to prepare and they have enough talent and experience to overcome this period. But our younger generation could suffer because of the lack of action and it might hurt us a few years down the line. We have some of the best young shooting talents in the world here in India and their development might be hit, but we will try to make up for this period in the future.
DSD: As president of the shooting federation you have a larger responsibility but is it time to take some tough calls and prioritise just the Olympic squad for the time being. That might mean that the younger shooters who are in the pipeline for the 2024 Olympics will have to suffer.
Raninder Singh: I think by the time the next Olympic cycle begins for the 2024 games, we will be well on our way towards recovery. At the moment, there are at least 4,000 different clinical trials that are ongoing for a vaccine or a treatment for the coronavirus. I think we can safely say that even if a vaccine isn't developed, effective treatment to the coronavirus will be found in two years. There is a possibility that the spread of the virus will decrease substantially in the near future. I certainly believe that the world's scientific community will find a solution for the COVID-19 virus. However, all of us have to be on our toes because this virus has long-term effects on the body.
DSD: Have you thought of maybe having three different venues for camps, rifle at one place, pistol at one place and shotgun at one place to minimise the risk when you begin the camps?
Raninder Singh: At the moment, I don't think it will be possible to hold different camps for different disciplines because that will only increase the risk of transmission, given the current state of affairs. If the situation does improve and the curve flattens, then we can think of holding multiple national camps. Currently, the risk of holding multiple camps is too high and we as a governing body have a responsibility to protect our athletes. If and when a national camp takes place, I will personally be present at the location to oversee that all relevant health and safety protocols are followed.
DSD: The fact remains you have an extremely young team. I have spoken to a few of them and they have been shooting at home. But you know there is no substitute for the competition so how do you keep them sharp.
Raninder Singh: The only way we can ensure that there is high-level competition for our shooters is by holding bilateral international events. The pressure that one feels at a full-fledged competition cannot be replicated in a trial or in an online shootout. Hopefully, we will be able to invite a nation that is of a similar international standard to India and hold an event. Once the government of India gives the go-ahead, then we will further draw up the plans and start shortlisting the nations who can be invited. Unfortunately, there will no elaborate process for the selection of the Indian team for the bilateral event and we will have to stick with the team we have. I realise it is unfair on the other athletes but we do not have any other option.
DSD: Abhinav Bindra and Manavjit Sandhu, two of your most decorated shooters told me that it is the wiser and more experienced shooters who will negotiate this stoppage better. A majority of your Olympic probables are between 16-24, so how do you keep them focussed?
Raninder Singh: Abhinav Bindra and Manavjit Sandhu are two legends of Indian shooting and I have the utmost respect for them. However, I believe that youngsters are more adaptable than the old guard. The young ones have more hunger in them, therefore they are more willing to adapt. The more experienced shooters are there to guide their younger colleagues and hopefully, they will be able to overcome this period of strife together. The lack of competition will hurt the young shooters and that is why we are looking to organise bilateral events so that they can get back in the groove ahead of the Tokyo Olympics next year.
DSD: You also are a pretty senior member of the international body ISSF. What are the plans to resume sport internationally and can it only happen when every participating country is able to send shooters without any quarantine norms to follow?
Raninder Singh: If an international event takes place, then athletes will have to follow the quarantine protocols that are present in the concerned nation to participate, there is no other option. I am not authorised to speak on behalf of the ISSF, but in my opinion, since the IOC has said that all nations must get an equal opportunity, it means that no events that are connected to Olympic qualification will be held. However, that doesn't mean that other international events cannot take place. So it just a case of getting all concerned parties on board and ensuring the health and safety of all involved.
DSD: is this an opportunity for shooting to move away from established tradition. We are seeing how formula one has adapted with back to back races. Europe has overcome the worst of the pandemic and can host events. Why not design a calendar that follows a similar model of chartered flights, bio bubbles or is it not possible financially?
Raninder Singh: any kind of modification that is made to the format or event, has to be sanctioned by the international federation first. I am not against any change in format that will make holding events easier during or after the coronavirus period, but these decisions cannot be taken unilaterally. ISSF is actually one of the most flexible and adaptive bodies in world sport. Having said that, athletes can't be sitting at home and this matter will be discussed within the ISSF in the near future. With regard to online competitions, I have no problem with it, but we cannot take a decision unilaterally. The NRAI must be authorised to do so by the ISSF. An Olympic event itself cannot be changed drastically and that will lead to problems. Otherwise, any decision that leads to the growth of the sport will be supported by us.
DSD: How do you ensure that the young athletes are not mentally scarred by this shutdown?
Raninder Singh: I come back again to the same point, that bilateral arrangements are the only way forward, not just for India but for every federation in the world.
DSD: There is another factor that cannot be ignored. We still don’t know if the Olympics will happen. You were the first Indian administrator to call for the postponement of the Tokyo games and what do you think will be the factors that see the Olympics going ahead next year.
Raninder Singh: There has to be a qualitative treatment available that essentially makes the coronavirus far less dangerous and contagious than it is right now. A treatment that allows doctors to treat a patient effectively in a short span of time, which also doesn't adversely affect the long term health of the individual. At the moment, we do not have such treatment available to us.
DSD: Is this the biggest challenge for you as a sports administrator, to get the sport back on track amid the coronavirus pandemic and turn shooting into a television sport?
Raninder Singh: I think this is the biggest opportunity we have because this situation has compelled everyone in the shooting fraternity to turn to the television, therefore we have an audience available to us. The international federation now has to guide us on how to take advantage of this situation.