Para-shooters left in the lurch after NRAI omission
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has removed para athletes from its programme in all competitions, including the national championships, with immediate effect, leaving more than 200 para shooters without a roadmap when they are preparing for 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games qualification.
The NRAI’s governing body, which met in New Delhi on Tuesday, decided that, “Since there is a separate organisation (Paralympic Committee of India), which controls shooting activities, including selection of teams for Para World Cups/Para World Championship/Para Olympic Games, it was removing para matches from its curriculum”.
Except, it’s actually the NRAI that controls shooting activities, and has been hosting para shooters for at least 25 years. During the last shooting nationals, around 280 para shooters participated.
The Paralympic Committee of India (PCI) technical committee chairman for shooting, JP Nautiyal, said “the decision had come as shock” and “more than 400 para shooters competing in 13 categories based on the level of disability were now staring at an uncertain future”.
NRAI secretary Rajiv Bhatia said, “No para shooter will compete at the National Championships in Bhopal (November-December). The PCI had placed a request with us to also hold state- and zonal-level championships, which was not feasible as a lot of states don’t have facilities such as elevators and ramps for special needs of para shooters. Then, there is this fear of getting negative publicity in the event of certain facilities not being available for the para shooters’ special needs. Why should NRAI gets a bad name?”
Bhatia cited the venue for the 2018 National Championships—Thiruvananthapuram—as an example, saying that shooters had to be carried to the first floor shooting range as there were no elevators.
“The members also said that since the authority to shortlist teams for international tournaments wrested with the PCI, why should we do the groundwork, such as hold trials, involve our technical staff and manpower?” Bhatia asked.
Rise in numbers
Bhatia conceded that one reason behind NRAI’s decision is the rapid rise of para shooters.
“Another problem faced by NRAI is that the number of matches is so large in the para category that it far outnumbers the matches for able-bodied shooters,” he said. “In rifle shooting itself, there are about 24 medal events. Our officials are also not well-versed with para rules and categories giving rise to disputes. We ask the PCI to send a technical official to sort these issues but they don’t send anyone.”
Nautiyal said, “The NRAI should have given us some time to at least to set up infrastructure. They (NRAI) were doing it for so many years. This will stall the pace of growth of para shooting in the country. Now, to hold competitions, we will have to do lot of groundwork. We do not have funds either. Shooters have won four quota places for 2020 Tokyo.”
But perhaps the biggest hurdle para shooters will face will be in importing arms and ammunition, since the NRAI is the sole licensing authority for this; if you are not part of it, you can’t import sport shooting guns and ammunition.
“That could spell the end of para shooting,” said Nautiyal.
Eighteen-year-old Avani Lekhara, who is paralysed waist-down, and who just returned from Para shooting World Cup in Osijek, Croatia with a silver in 10m air rifle said, “This is very unfortunate. I am disappointed. It had been decided at the government level that all those sport where there is no infrastructure for para athletes at the state or national level, the national sports federations will support them. This will cause big harm.”