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Hockey is miles ahead of other federations, says Abhinav Bindra (hindu)

The champion marksman explains why professionalisation of the sports bodies is key to making India a world-beater

Life doesn’t end with retirement, especially if you’re India’s only individual Olympic champion to date. Shooter Abhinav Bindra, world champion in the 10 m Air Rifle event in 2006 and gold medallist at Beijing 2008, almost made it to the medals podium at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games before calling it a day. The five-time Olympian, still a young 34, has now made it his mission to give back to sport, and shooting. Still chairman of the Athletes Commission of the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), he has set up a High Performance Training Centre in Chandigarh and been a part of several committees tasked with making Indian sport more professional and result-oriented. In this wide-ranging interview, Bindra talks about what it is that we really need to put India firmly on the Olympic map. Excerpts:

How has life been after the Rio Olympics?

I have been occupied with my professional career. It is top priority. I have also been occupied with three committees which take a lot of time… [I’m] glad that the work on the Sports Code is done. It was a good experience and worked out well. The identification process for the TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme), for the Tokyo Olympics, is on. It will continue for some time.

What should we expect from the restructured National Sports Development Code, especially considering that the feasibility of extending the Lodha committee’s cricket reforms to the Olympic stream was studied?

Nothing dramatic can be expected from the Sports Code, because the Olympic Charter has to be respected. Nobody wants a situation where we go against the Olympic Charter and are kept out of the Olympic stream, like the way the IOA (Indian Olympic Association) was suspended last time. The focus has been on professional governance. The suggestion has been to put a proper structure in place with High Performance Directors and professionals taking care of marketing, communication, etc. in a national sports federation. Putting a proper structure is the right step forward. Of course, there is scope for further improvement.

The focus has been on age restriction of 70 years for the office-bearers and a tenure of only two terms at a stretch, etc. Should not the focus be on developing the sports and ensuring good results at the highest levels?

Well, the Sports Code is not the end of everything. It is important to find a way to take sports forward. However, it is important to have certain stipulations in place like restriction in terms of age, tenure etc. We had able leadership in the Secretary, Sports, Injeti Srinivas, as the Chairman of the committee. He understands the subject thoroughly, as he had worked on the earlier version of the Sports Code. The new Sports Code will be quite progressive.

How does one make the national sports federations professional?

The goal should be towards self-sustainability. Nobody will give a single rupee if you cannot match value in a professional way. For that, you need paid professionals.

Sports federations heavily bank on government support. The new guidelines may only aggravate this.

Yes, it is a long process. The government is likely to support the federations by meeting the cost of the professionals. Even if you do all the right things, it may not ensure that the sponsors line up to support your sport. It is only a hope that the federations will not be dependent on state support forever. We need to have people with a vision. We can only sow the seeds and hope that they would bear fruit some day. Hockey has done a fantastic job on that front. It is miles ahead of the rest of the federations in terms of putting professionals on the job. It too depends on government support but has been able to generate funds, which has helped it to be more professional in running the game.

What future do you see for shooting in the Olympics, especially with gender equality in terms of equal number of medals for men and women being achieved through mixed doubles events?

Shooting had to first survive. There are 20 to 30 new disciplines that are fighting to get into the Olympics. The bottom line was the Agenda 2020 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which wants to ensure gender equality. Shooting was one of the nine international federations that had not achieved it thus far. It was imperative that it met the requirement... The senior shooters were understandably upset at losing their events. The juniors were able to understand and appreciate the situation. The mixed events have been well received in the European Championships. It is a progressive step to ensure that shooting stays in the Olympic movement.

Heena Sidhu and Jitu Rai were able to win the mixed air pistol event, a test event, during the World Cup in Delhi. Will India’s chances of Olympic medals be enhanced with the mixed events in the Tokyo 2020 Games?

The rules are yet to be framed for the mixed competition. We have to see how the athletes qualify. You can make combinations only after qualification. Of course, it is great that we have been able to strike gold in the Grand Prix event. It looks good for a start, at the moment.

A committee headed by you has made many recommendations to take Indian shooting forward, but not much has been implemented.

Post Rio, when shooting did not win a medal, it is important to have holistic preparation. I only hope that the NRAI (National Rifle Association of India) shows the urgency that is required. Only when you strengthen the sport by putting a structure in place can you hope for sustained good results at the highest levels.

At least one suggestion — to empower the coach, and allow him to decide the shooter in the squad — seems to be working. But it is not uniform across all disciplines.

We all found that Ennio Falco is a good coach and had done a fine job in moulding the skeet shooters. When you have competent people, you need to trust them and entrust them with the responsibility… We can’t just cut, copy and paste from the U.S. or Germany. We have to see what is relevant for us. Of course, we can learn from other countries. We have to see what is suitable for our ecosystem.

Maybe the continued success of our shooters — a haul of one gold, two silver and three bronze medals in the recent World Cup at home, for instance — gives a false sense of good health for the federation.

I do agree that the performance in the World Cup was commendable. We have the numbers and talent to keep doing well in the World Cups. But the measure of success is mainly gauged in the Olympics and the World Championships. In our case, the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games are also important. The question is, how many shooters can we put in the Olympics? How many medals can we win there? We have to stand up to the real challenge at the highest levels. Money is not an issue for shooting. The question is how you want to spend the money, your priorities.

The shooting federation had conducted the Asian Olympic quota event last year, and now the World Cup. The World Cup Finals are scheduled to be hosted in October. There is going to be another World Cup offering Olympic quota places in 2019. Are we doing the right thing in hosting these big events?

I have no problem in us hosting these big events. There are many advantages as we get world-class competition at home and we can field maximum number of shooters without worrying about cost of travel. The problem starts when we forget our priority, which is supporting our shooters to meet world standards and perform at the highest levels. Whenever we host the big events, two-four months are spent in planning and execution. Everything else takes a back seat. The same staff works on the job. We are multi-tasking all the time. We tend to lose sight of our main goals. If you have separate set of staff for each task, it works well. If focus on athletes’ preparation is not disturbed, you are welcome to do all these big events which can help the sport grow.

On to a different subject, what has been the response to your High Performance Training Centre in Chandigarh?

It is doing well, and being fully utilised. We are planning to set up another centre in Delhi. It will have doctors and cater both to the athletes for high performance and rehabilitation of normal patients. In Mohali, it is serving the local people a lot in terms of improving the quality of life, solving their problems.

How is your home range? You had announced that you may turn it into a kitchen garden!

The range is very much there. I had some athletes who wanted to try shooting. But I am not shooting at all.

There has been news about the film on you becoming a reality soon.


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