The country's Tokyo-bound shooters and their parents will have to sign a bond with the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) that will bar them from signing sponsorship deals until the Olympics without prior permission from the national governing body. Those who have already signed commercial deals will have to put them on hold or they will be dragged to court for a stay order, the federation said on Friday.
It is learnt that signing and accepting this code of conduct will be a prerequisite to compete at next year's Olympics. NRAI president Raninder Singh said the step has been taken to ensure that athlete are not “put under pressure and misused for financial gains”. According to Raninder, India has “lost three Olympic medals” because of these reasons in the past. He, however, did not mention the names of the shooters he was referring to.
Indian shooters, who drew a blank at Rio 2016, have had a remarkable year in rifle and pistol events, and – on current form – will enter the Tokyo Olympics as the country's best bet to win multiple medals. A record 15 shooters have qualified for the Olympics.
“We have worked damn hard to get here. It's very important shooting comes back with four medals otherwise our sport will be shut. The government is spending Rs 30 crore a year. Nobody will keep backing it like this if we go like Fanney Khan and come back empty-handed,” Raninder said.
The federation is putting measures in place to avoid another Rio-like debacle. Apart from ensuring they are not 'exploited', Raninder said shooters won't be allowed to train abroad on their own. Instead, they will all have to train together at the Dr. Karni Singh Range in Delhi. Exceptions, however, will be made for shooters to train at their homes if they have the requisite facilities.
This idea, he said, is based on the suggestion made by an Abhinav Bindra-led committee that reviewed the Indian performance at the 2016 Olympics. “In India, there is no unified team. There are some individual athletes and groups, but no one to coordinate and supervise their training,” the report stated.
On Friday, Raninder added: “Nobody is going to Japan, China, Switzerland... nobody is going nowhere. The athlete can bring whoever they want and train in Delhi. If they want to train at their home, we don't mind. But we have to keep a track of everything they are doing.”
More than training in India, though, the federation seems more concerned about the shooters being 'exploited' for financial gains. After the National Championship in Bhopal next month, the NRAI is likely to inform the shooters about this decision.
“I will ask the families – father and mother – to sign a bond that you are responsible for this athlete, you cannot put pressure on this athlete, you cannot misuse this athlete's standing for financial gain. They don't need money – that is covered. I am not making accusations against anyone but there is a need to protect athletes because he is representing the Tricolour. So he is at the country's disposal rather than the country being at his disposal,” Raninder said.
The NRAI chief said the shooters will not be barred from signing commercial deals, but will have to consult the federation before putting pen to paper. “I am not a communist, I believe in a free market. (But) There is one particular athlete who has signed a contract with some social media site for (Rs) 2.5 lakh. He is number 1 in the world. Is that justifiable to you? The poor chap doesn't know (if he is getting a raw deal) as he comes from a humble background. He is 15-16 years old. The parents are farmers... they may not be aware,” Raninder said.
Earlier this year, 17-year-old Saurabh Chaudhary – world number 3 in 10m air pistol – signed a deal with a private talent management firm.
The same company also signed Apurvi Chandela, ranked 1 in 10m air rifle, a few months ago. These, and other, shooters will have to 'unsign' their contracts, Raninder said. “Or I will take them to court and get a stay. I will go as a national federation and say my child is being exploited,” he said.