India’s teenage shooting prodigies, who had a mixed campaign at the Asian Games, need to be protected from the lure of money and petty politics, believe national coaches Mansher Singh and Jaspal Rana.
Saurabh Chaudhary, 16, became the youngest Indian to win a shooting gold in the competition history, achieving the stupendous feat in the 10m air pistol.
In the shotgun event, 15-year-old Shardul Vihan and Lakshay Sheoran, 19, won a silver each in the double trap and trap event.
There were high expectations from the young guns after pistol shooters Anish Bhanwala and Manu Bhaker, 15 and 16 respectively, won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast in April.
However, the duo could not meet the expectations at Asian Games and returned empty handed.
“We will lose them if their innocence is not protected,” said Mansher Singh, team leader of the Indian shooting contingent and shotgun coach, on the final day of the competition.
“We have to treat them like 15 and 16-year-olds. We have to make them feel happy and secure. It is the most pressing issue at hand right now,” he added.
“They did not win here but they will win elsewhere provided they are groomed well. They have to accept defeat and let’s just say that they learnt the right lesson at the wrong time,” said pistol coach and four-time Asiad gold medallist Jaspal Rana.
The lure of money
In a nation starved of sporting glory, when these “fearless souls” bring laurels to the country at international events, they are showered with cash rewards ranging from Rs 2 to 3 crore.
“Obviously, they don’t know what to do with that kind of money and their parents, too, start getting influenced from outside factors, especially who have a humble background. Let these fearless innocent kids remain that way,” said Mansher, who won a Commonwealth Games gold in 1994.
“In India, for political reasons, different states announce big prize money when these kids win medals. They should get all the money but not all in one go.”
“If they are giving a cash prize of Rs 1 crore, the government should break that into a monthly amount and give it over a period of time. That way they will remain motivated. It will make them work harder,” the multiple-time Olympian added.
Confusion over coaches
Another thing affecting the youngsters is the constant bickering among coaches. The Indian team came here with four Indian coaches and as many foreign coaches.
It is an open secret that pistol coaches Rana and Ronak Pandit, who happens to be shooter Heena Sidhu’s husband, don’t get along well.
Chaudhary and Bhanwala, both junior shooters, trained with the senior team in Delhi ahead of the Games while Bhaker trained with junior coach Rana in Bhopal.
Mansher feels the issue needs to be addressed by the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), at the earliest.
“There should be a proper structure in place. NRAI has to step in. I feel the junior shooters should train with coaches working on the junior program and when they break into the senior team, the senior coaches should take over. This has to be streamlined,” said Mansher.
Rana, on his part, added: “People are playing politics (on who should coach which shooter). This has to stop. These 15-year-olds are like any other school kids. They don’t know what is right and wrong for them.”
Rana was disappointed with Bhanwala’s failure at the Games.
“I don’t know why he shot so badly. He was beating all seniors at the camp.”
‘Foreigners shouldn’t be coaches’
Indian shooting is reaping the fruits of the junior programme started by NRAI in 2014.
Mansher informed the core group has about 150 junior shooters across rifle, pistol and shotgun categories. But again not all go on to make it big.
“We lose most of the top junior shooters when they reach 20. They are not able to make the senior team and get disillusioned. That is why it is imperative to have a transitional group,” said Mansher, who also demanded an all-Indian coaching staff.”
“Indian shooters are recognised globally now. Our young shooters are only comfortable with Indian coaches. We should have foreigners as high performance managers, physios, nutritionists but not as coaches,” he added.