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Family matters, country takes a backseat

The South Asian Shooting Championships might just be a cakewalk for India’s all-conquering shooters, but an incident from last week’s event in Dhaka is a pointer to how sport is run in India, reports Ajai Masand.

other Updated: Jul 13, 2009 22:50 IST
Ajai Masand

The South Asian Shooting Championships might just be a cakewalk for India’s all-conquering shooters, but an incident from last week’s event in Dhaka is a pointer to how sport is run in India.

Twenty-year-old rifle shooter Lajja Gauswami, India’s best bet for an Olympic medal three years from now, found to her horror that her name had been struck off from the list of those in medal contention for the 50m rifle three-position on the day of the event. Instead, she had been placed in the MQS (Minimum Qualification Score) category, a classification in which shooters get no medals, whatever their score.

And what happened was this. She shot a 574, which was more than the medal-winning score of 571 of fellow Indian Tejaswani Sawant, but because she wasn’t in contention, India lost out on two certain medals, an individual silver and team gold.

So why did this happen? Because national selector TS Dhillon put pressure on National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) officials to replace Lajja with his daughter, Navdeep Dhillon, for the medal event.

“On the morning of the event I was told I would be competing in the MQS category,” Lajja told HT. “I thought it was a joke but the coach (Randhir Singh) told me he had been asked to replace me with Navdeep. We lost the silver in the individual and the gold in the team category to hosts Bangladesh.”

Lajja, incidentally, has qualified for three World Cup finals this year and finished among the top six twice. Navdeep shot a poor 564 to finish sixth. And her scores in the team event had India finishing second best.

Singh confirmed this: “Navdeep’s father Dhillon exerted pressure through the NRAI and I had to give in. It hurt to drop Lajja. We gave Bangladesh two medals on a platter.”

When contacted, Dhillon said: “There was a goof-up when the entries were sent. Because of which my daughter could not compete in the medals round in the prone event. Lajja was entered in two events, so where is the problem. Anyway, the SAF Championship is not such a big event.”