Differences between India's only individual Olympic gold medal winner and the National Rifle Association of India go back a long way. But perhaps the worst bit of apathy was apparent when Abhinav Bindra's gun was tampered with just before he went in to shoot at the Beijing Olympics final.
The shooter's sights had been altered and it took him 40 clicks to get his bearing right. A member of the Indian contingent was responsible for what was clearly sabotage and NRAI officials admitted on record that they were aware that the gun had been fiddled with.
Yet, no attempt was made to launch an inquiry into how India almost lost its only individual Olympic gold.
The federation called him an “ingrate” when Bindra pointed out that Indian sport needed professional management. Usually, Indian sportspersons toe the line once they have been successful, as the benefits of being on the right side of the powers-that-be are immense. However, Bindra bucked the trend and had the courage to expose the malaise in shooting. His recommendations for change were rubbished.
In an effort to make air rifles, otherwise very expensive, more accessible to juniors, the shooter roped in his gun sponsor Walther to put together an initiative called the ‘Go for Gold Programme’, through which youngsters would be mentored/coached by Bindra and have access to less expensive equipment. He wanted to make a difference, NRAI refused to let it go through.
Time and again, instead of encouraging a known performer, the federation has done its best to shunt Bindra out. Rather than allowing him to continue with his team of six professional coaches abroad, NRAI wanted him to come for camps and attend local trials where he hardly had any competition to spur on performance. That, despite national rifle coach Stanislav Lapidus backing the shooter’s desire to keep training and competing abroad.
Bindra’s focus is pretty clear. He wants to give the London Olympics his best shot. His present priority is to do well in the 50th World Championships in Munich this August, where the first lot of quota places for the 2012 Games will be up for grabs. Being defending champion, and the expectations of justifying Beijing, Bindra obviously wants to gun for this event rather than piecemeal trial competitions. It makes sense to everyone but India’s national shooting federation.