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Asian Games 2018: Shooter Heena Sidhu lashes out at NRAI after missing berth in pet events; Jitu Rai, Gagan Narang ignored

Former World No 1 air pistol shooter Heena Sidhu has come out all guns blazing against the selection policy of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) after she failed to make the cut for the 25m individual and 10m mixed air pistol event.

The selection policy in the 10m air pistol for women has come under the scanner for the federation’s insistence on giving weightage to scores achieved in the Commonwealth Games, which was conducted under the now-obsolete format. The old rules in 10m air pistol allowed shooters to fire 40 shots, which is now replaced by 60 shots in all international tournaments.

“Just like you do not select a team in cricket for a one-dayer, which is a 50-over event, based on performance of a 20-over match, similarly you cannot select a shooter based on the performance of a 40-shot format instead of 60 shots,’’ said Sidhu in an exclusive chat with Firstpost. As per its selection criteria for pistol events, the federation considers best scores achieved in three out of last four tournaments recognised by it. Bonus points are also added depending on the final position of the shooter in the final of a tournament.

 Asian Games 2018: Shooter Heena Sidhu lashes out at NRAI after missing berth in pet events;  Jitu Rai, Gagan Narang ignored

File image of Heena Sidhu. Reuters

The inclusion of Commonwealth Games scores meant Manu Bhaker logged the highest selection points, pushing Sidhu to the second spot. Since only the top men and women shooters according to the selection points get to represent the country in the mixed 10m air pistol event, Sidhu has missed the bus. But if scores in tournaments competed in 60-shot formats are considered, Bhaker drops to the sixth place, with Sidhu moving to the top spot followed by Shwetha Choudhary.

“There have been a number of tournaments conducted by the federation at the domestic level using the 60-shot format. So I do not understand why these scores are not being considered,’’ adds Sidhu, whose scores at the World Cups in Changwon, Munich and the trials at the Delhi were considered for selection points. In case of Bhaker, selection points were tallied from her performance in the Sydney Junior World Cup, Commonwealth Games and World Cups in Munich and Changwon.

While Sidhu had taken part in the Asian Games trials in Delhi, Manu entered the event as provisional shooter, which meant her scores in the event were not considered for selection rankings. This is a special allowance given to shooters for testing their equipment or technique under competition conditions only for experimental purpose.

Heena has knocked the doors of the NRAI president Raninder Singh to make him aware of the ‘unfair selection policies’. The NRAI chief issued a statement in the evening saying that he was unwell and could not meet Heena on Saturday, but will soon hear her grievance.

“The beauty of the sport of shooting is you can actually quantify the performance of an athlete to the nearest decimal point, which leaves very little scope for prejudices. Yet favouritism is creeping in,’’ regrets Sidhu, who won a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in the 25m pistol event.

There were complaints from the rifle camp as well, with Commonwealth Games silver medallist Mehuli Ghosh losing out to Apurvi Chandela and Elavenil Valarivan. “Rules have been flagrantly violated while conducting the trials in the 10m air rifle category for women. I have already written to NRAI lodging complaints,’’ says Joydeep Karmakar, Ghosh's coach. “I am hoping NRAI chief looks into these anomalies.’’

During the trials of the 10m air rifle event for women on the 20 June in Delhi, some of the shooters expressed their inability to take part in the event as they were travelling to the junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany soon. “But just a few minutes before the start of the final, we were told, some of them are actually available and a couple of them made it to the finals based on the qualifying rounds conducted a couple of days ago. Other participants and their coaching staff were completely kept in the dark about it,’’ adds Karmakar. Elavanil who was not part of the initial list of participants, entered the final and went on to top the contest. She earned invaluable selection points and booked her berth for the Asian Games, edging out Ghosh.

Jitu Rai, India’s lone gold medallist at the last edition of the Asian Games in Incheon, also failed to make the cut along with experienced rifle shooter Gagan Narang. There was also no place in the squad for the current world No 1 10m air pistol shooter Shahzar Rizvi.

Though Indian shooters had a successful outing in the first World Cup of 2018 in Guadalajara and followed it up with a golden run in the Commonwealth Games, there was very little to cheer about in the next two World Cups when they ran into tougher opponents. Shahzar claimed a silver in the World Cup in Changwon but the shooting contingent drew a blank in Munich.

The year 2018 is an important one for the Indian marksmen as the berths for the 2020 Olympics will be up for grabs immediately after the Asian Games in Changwon, during the year’s first World Championship.

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Updated Date: Jul 01, 2018 16:30:40 IST