Even as Beijing Olympic Games gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra received the Padma Bhushan from President Pratibha Patil on Tuesday, his name was struck off from the list of core group athletes for the 2010 Commonwealth Games for skipping national-level tournaments and training camps.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) also struck off the names of 2004 Athens Games silver-medallist in double-trap, R.V.S. Rathore, and Anjali Bhagwat from the core group of 150.
The decision puts a big question mark on whether the three can participate in the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games. "Their inclusion in the core group and subsequent participation in the Commonwealth Games is now subject to the NRAI's selection committee decision next year," said NRAI general-secretary Baljeet Singh Sethi.
Sethi said their names and those of 'many more' have been struck off from the core group for either not participating in national events, non-performance or skipping camps.
"Two days back, it was decided that if they are skipping national events and camps, they would lose the right to participate in World Cups, World Championships and other international events," said Sethi.
"We are trying to weed out the absentees and non-performers and are also closely monitoring the performance of (Olympian) Avneet Kaur Sidhu who is in the 'B' squad and would be participating in a few World Cups," Sethi said.
"When we spoke to Abhinav, he told us that he wanted to train on his own. But then, if he is training on his own, we cannot make him part of the national squad for the World Cups and other top international events," he said.
"We didn't get a satisfactory answer from Abhinav as to why he was skipping the camps and national events. With so many juniors coming up, why should we block a slot in the core group" Sethi said.
Following HT's criticism of the core group, the ministry has reportedly started assessing the performance of sportspersons and written to federations to weed out non-performers. "Yes, we have short-listed around 27-28 non-performers and are in the process of replacing them with those who have done well in the national trials and tournaments recently. Some 15 shotgun and an equal number of rifle and pistol shooters would be replaced. We have also planned to leave about a dozen slots vacant in the core list so that we can accommodate some good performers in the future," said Sethi.
The NRAI's decision to strike off the names of India's top shooters can be lauded, but can the country afford to keep its best out of the fray when the country's prestige is at stake?
Tennis aces Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have skipped nationals all along but nobody can even think of striking off their names from the core group for the CWG. Then why Abhinav, Rathore or Anjali?