Jaspal Rana’s exclusion from the Dronacharya Award list for this year has snowballed into an issue that is both symptomatic of the off-field problems in Indian sport and a reason for further questioning the powers and policies that be.

Rana, a veteran shooter himself, has been the national junior pistol coach since 2012 and is part of the system that has given rise to a new breed of young shooting sensations who have an enjoyed immense success in the last couple of years. He was the coach under whom pistol shooters Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary and Anish Bhanwala transitioned to medals at the senior level. In 2018, these shooters were at the forefront with multiple medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.

However, the 43-year-old was not nominated for the Dronacharya Award, given to the top coaches in the country. The selection panel nominated Vimal Kumar (Badminton), Sandeep Gupta (Table tennis) and Mohinder Singh Dhillon (Athletics) for the Dronacharya Award in regular category on Saturday.

In the three days since, different members of selection committee have given different versions for the reasons to exclude Rana while a source from the Sports Authority of India has been quoted widely and has cited a completely different reason, leading to doubts about the whole process.

The most telling reaction has been that of Abhinav Bindra, India’s most celebrated name in the sport.

The tweet has resulted in a chain reaction, with questions over the selection process being raised, especially on social media.

But even without Bindra’s backing, there appears to be more than what meets the eye in the whole issue. The reactions of the selection committee to Rana’s exclusion are not uniform and the report by the Press Trust of India that suggests he was not named as a personal coach by his former wards has led to further confusion.

According to a selection panel member Anju Bobby George, the final decision came after a debate and a proper method of voting.

“One of the criteria that was not fulfilled in case of Rana is that to be eligible for the award the coach must have trained an athlete who has won an award for at least 180 days at a stretch, that criteria was not fulfilled,” she was quoted as saying by The Times of India.

Baichung Bhutia, another member of the panel, said the majority opinion went against Rana.

“For the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards, achievements over a four-year period was taken into account. There was a lot of debate and discussion over Jaspal’s case. I personally feel that he was a great contender. This time it did not happen in terms of the majority opinion. With just three spots available, it was a very tough competition for the Dronacharya Awards,” Bhutia told IANS.

Another member, Rajesh Kalra, tweeted that there were credible reasons for his exclusion and that there was no malice intended in the decision.

Rana has refuted both these reasons, saying the committee doesn’t seem to know the criteria they are supposed to judge on.

“I need clarification on what the criteria are. Bhutia is saying majority opinion. How does the opinion count here? Then, they say that 180 days the coach has to be with the shooter. None of them have read the criteria. You refuse, you refuse. But don’t give lame excuses about criteria, opinion and TOPS,” he told Scroll.in.

But perhaps the bigger question is over the source-based story by Press Trust of India that Rana was ignored after none of his proteges, including Manu Bhaker and Saurabh Chaudhary, mentioned him as their mentor in official records under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme.

“We went by what the athletes have declared in the official records. None of Jaspal Rana’s so-called proteges have named him as their coach in the affidavit filed up to be a part of the TOPS.

“It was a fair decision. How can we award someone when his proteges have not mentioned his name as their coach? That was the main bone of contention and that went against him. It was a fair and unanimous decision,” a the member of the selection committe told PTI on condition of anonymity. 

The issue here is that as a national coach, Rana cannot technically be named by individual shooters as their personal coach. Rana was nominated by the National Rifle Association of India, the national shooting federation.

“In TOPS nobody mentioned by name because I am not their personal coach, why would they mention my name? How is TOPS relevant to any award Committee?” Rana questioned.

He shared a snippet of the nomination form which said that he was neither a grassroots nor a personal coach and named the shooters he has worked with.

On the flipside, there are those who say that as a junior coach largely at the national camp he hasn’t been involved with the medals winning pistol shooters. Ever since the teenagers have made the national squad they have been training with the senior coaches, who also accompany them to competitions.

Haryana’s Anish Bhanwala, who trained under Rana when he made it to the national camp, is said to be no longer working with him. Chaudhary was trained by Amit Sheoran from the start.

This leaves Baker, who does train with Rana at times and he is often seen with her at competitions.

Interestingly, one of points mentioned in the PTI report was that he was not present during Bhaker’s 25m pistol final at the Munich World Cup in May this year when her wepaon malfunctioned.

“Rana had travelled as the pistol coach for the Munich World Cup but during Manu’s final, where her weapon got stuck twice, he was not present. That cost Manu and the country an Olympic quota place,” the source told PTI.

Rana was seen with Bhaker in Munich in the 10m final, where she won an Olympic quota place and says he was present in the 25m final as well. However, it is unlikely that he could have done much about a malfunction midway through the final.

“Somebody comes up and says Manu Bhaker malfunction.They don’t even know that the Bhaker case happened after the application was gone. I was very much there, but the national coach was Gangadhar Sharma and he has all the right to sit behind the national shooter and team. I was a junior coach accompanying Manu so I had no right to sit behind her. If they allow me to sit with the shooter, it is because they understand the situation,” Rana added.

This is not the first time this year that Rana has been under the scanner as junior coach.
Earlier in the year ahead of the season-opening World Cup, Rana said he was left out of the preparation camp. As the junior coach, he was technically not part of the senior camp however, he had former junior shooters like Bhaker training with him.

That situation was supposedly diffused when National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh explained that the juniors had not given the request to have him as per rules.

As of now, the Delhi State Rifle Association has written to Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju to rectify the issue. But no other official comments have been made.