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Abhinav Bindra Issue Ignites Blame Game Between Sports Ministry, NRAI

The Sports Ministry on Saturday said any selection process that leaves out the best talents is faulty and it would have no issues if National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) exempts ace shooter Abhinav Bindra
PTI January 16, 2010 19:48 IST
PTI

The Sports Ministry on Saturday said any selection process that leaves out the best talents is faulty and it would have no issues if National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) exempts ace shooter Abhinav Bindra from trials.

India's first individual Olympic gold medalist Abhinav is apparently upset at being repeatedly asked to appear in trials and feels NRAI should instead accept his scores in tournaments abroad for selection.

Joint Secretary in the Sports Ministry Injeti Srinivas told PTI that the Ministry was flexible and would not object if NRAI decides to exempt elite shooters from trials.

"It's for the National Sports Federations (NSF) to lay down the selection criteria. If NRAI tells the Ministry tomorrow that they want to follow a separate approach for the top shooters and exempt Abhinav from trials, we would have no objection. But we have received no such request till now," Srinivas said.

"The ministry insists on NSFs having a well-calibrated selection criteria implemented in a transparent manner so that it results in the best team representing the country. Now what the criteria should be is something left entirely to the NSFs," he explained.

"What should be the criteria, whether performance in tournaments abroad should carry more weightage or the trials, it's upto the NRAI to decide. The Sports Ministry doesn't come into the picture," Srinivas said.

Srinivas said it was surprising that the Sports Ministry was unnecessarily dragged into the selection debate. He also felt that elite shooters like Abhinav and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore deserve customised training.

"The Ministry has no doubts whatsoever that Bindra is our top shooter and that's why he, along with some other elite shooters, has been exempted from the standardised training of our core group of shooters.

"That's precisely why marksmen of the calibre of Bindra, Rathore or Manavjit Singh are allowed tailor-made, personalised training. We have spent Rs 1.5 crore for the training Bindra is undergoing and he and his coach visited the ministry in the past to appreciate that," Srinivas said.

Srinivas said the Ministry had advised Bindra to focus on his training and promised to sort things out.

"I spoke to his father last week and told him to ask Abhinav to concentrate on his training so that he is in the best of mindset and if there is any problem, we would sort it out. We have received a mail from Abhinav yesterday and would handle that request as well," the Ministry official added.

Rattled by Abhinav's threat to quit, the NRAI said it was actually the sports ministry which had asked the Beijing Olympics gold medallist to attend national trials for getting his foreign training trips partly financed.

"We are being made scapegoats in the whole matter despite the fact that we are not even in the picture. It's the sports ministry which had asked Abhinav to attend trials before sanctioning finances for his training trip. How can the NRAI be blamed for it? We have never pressurised him to attend trials," said NRAI Secretary Rajiv Bhatia.

"I have no clue why he is attacking the federation. May be because it is easier to put the blame on us. Everybody thinks that the federations are only harassing athletes but nobody has questioned Bindra about his claims of training at his own expense," he added.

The NRAI, however, dismissed Abhinav's allegations and said the body never misinformed him about the trial schedule.

"We never told him that trials are on December 18. Actually, he never wants to come to trials in India," Bhatia said.

NRAI also released a series of letters exchanged between Abhinav and the sports ministry, which state that the shooter had been asked to attend trials by the ministry in lieu of training trip expenses.

"The Executive Committee of the National Sports Development Federation considered your proposal and ratified the assistance already made. The Executive Committee also approved financial assistance only for July and September 2009 subject to receipts of accounts for the assistance already released.

"This approval is further subject to your compliance with the National Rifle Association of India for participation in selection trials and international competitions," read a ministry letter to Abhinav after he requested partial financing of a foreign training trip.

Abhinav had agreed to participate in the trials after this and Bhatia said the NRAI was in no way involved in the matter.

"Where does the NRAI come in all this? If the ministry says that you cannot select someone without trial, how can we flout that? Won't we get hauled up if we send names of shooters who have not appeared for trials?" Bhatia pointed out.

Abhinav's standoff with the NRAI comes just a few days after the national hockey team went on strike for non-payment of dues and had to be pacified by the administrators with a promise of payments before the World Cup in March.

Bindra has created a flutter by threatening to quit shooting. He said he was frustrated with the National Rifles Association of India's attitude towards him but the NRAI claimed they were being made a scapegoat in the entire episode and they have never asked him to appear for trials.

"There are days when I feel like throwing away my rifle. The whole thing started in July when the sports ministry intimated me that the NRAI wants to me to compete in trials for Commonwealth Championships, I came back in November only to be told by the NRAI that the trials have been postponed to January," said Abhinav, India's first individual Olympic gold medallist.

"Now I get to know that my name is not there in the team for the Commonwealth Championship in February. I am not upset that somebody else is getting a chance, I am only upset about the process. First they throw me out of the Commowealth Games core group, then they deny me a contract with the sponsors and now I am not there in the Commonwealth Championship team," he added.

"NRAI's attitude surprises me. I have never said anything against NRAI. I am not saying that I don't want to be accountable. You can monitor my results. It's certainly frustrating and annoying to face such situations ,"Abhinav said.

The 27-year-old world champion, who clinched the historic Olympic gold medal in the 10m air rifle, has been at loggerheads with the game's administrators but had never threatened to quit publicly.

Abhinav's father A S BIndra said the shooter's morale has taken a hit after constant run-ins with NRAI.

"His emotional state is very low. He is planning that if 'I am subjected to such harassment then it's better to quit then confront'," he added.

The incidents reflect poorly on Indian sports in a year in which the country is scheduled to host the Commonwealth Games in October.

Frustrated with the national federation's "attitude", disillusioned Olympic hero Abhinav Bindra has created a flutter by threatening to quit shooting, throwing Indian sports into yet another controversy.

Abhinav said he was frustrated with the National Rifles Association of India's attitude towards him but the NRAI claimed they were being made a scapegoat in the entire episode and they have never asked him to appear for trials.

"There are days when I feel like throwing away my rifle. The whole thing started in July when the sports ministry intimated me that the NRAI wants to me to compete in trials for Commonwealth Championships, I came back in November only to be told by the NRAI that the trials have been postponed to January," said Abhinav, India's first individual Olympic gold medallist.

"Now I get to know that my name is not there in the team for the Commonwealth Championship in February. I am not upset that somebody else is getting a chance, I am only upset about the process. First they throw me out of the Commowealth Games core group, then they deny me a contract with the sponsors and now I am not there in the Commonwealth Championship team," he added.

"NRAI's attitude surprises me. I have never said anything against NRAI. I am not saying that I don't want to be accountable. You can monitor my results. It's certainly frustrating and annoying to face such situations,"Abhinav said.

The 27-year-old world champion, who clinched the historic Olympic gold medal in the 10m air rifle, has been at loggerheads with the game's administrators but had never threatened to quit publicly.

Bindra on Saturday urged the administrators to let him follow his own training module which has helped him become an Olympic champion.

Bindra said he was frustrated with the National Rifles Association of India's attitude towards him.

The NRAI and the sports ministry though are blaming each other for creating the confusion about Bindra's participation in the selection trials.

'I want to concentrate on my sport and to keep myself out of these non productive issues, which only has an adverse effect on my future performance," Bindra said in a statement.

The Chandigarh marksman said he was frustrated with the turn of events which led to his exlusion from the Commonwealth shooting championship squad.

"I was communicated through a letter by the Ministry of Sports (MOS) in July, 2009 and September 2009 that the NRAI had intimated that I must participate in the selection trial in December 2009, Commonwealth shooting championship in February 2010 and in ISSF World Cup in March 2010.

"I gave my confirmation in September 2009 about my participation in these events. I planned my training in Europe accordingly and came back specially in December 2009 only to learn that there were no trials taking place.

"Subsequently the team for the Commonwealth shooting championships February 2010 has been announced without my name featuring in it," he said.

Bindra said he has requested both NRAI and Sports Ministry to consider his scores in the international events for selection.

"These events have left me very disturbed and frustrated at the way my professional training has been discounted. In light of these events, I have requested MOS and NRAI that my future international results be regarded as a benchmark for my selection, so that I can focus on my training programme and method, which has shown great results in the past," he said.

Bindra said unless he trains his own way he can't produce good results.

"I don't see the chance of future success if I am not going to be allowed to prepare in a certain way of training and competing that my professional team has planned. These modules have worked very well for me in the past and have helped me be the current world championship and Olympic champion," he said.

Bindra added that bringing laurels for the country was always his priority and was pained to see that his viewpoint was not understood in its true sense.

"Ever since I took up the sport 15 years ago, I dreamt of winning a gold medal in the air rifle shooting for the country. It was unfortunate, that as a nation we had to wait till 2008 to get our first individual gold medal when I took the top step of the podium at Beijing", he said.

Congress MP Mohammad Azharuddin said in Kolkata on Saturday that the ace shooter is the best medal prospect for India and the national federation should support him.

The cricketer-turned-politician, who was felicitated by Mohammedan Sporting at its club tent here, termed the latest controversy in the Indian sport as "very sad" and said the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) should stand by Abhinav.

"What I heard about Abhinav is very sad. If a shooter like Abhinav is saying he is frustrated then there must be something wrong. NRAI should do something about it. It is not going in the right direction.

"After our achievement in hockey, Bindra has given us the only Olympic individual gold medal. At the moment, he is the best Olympic medal prospect for India," said Azharuddin, who is now a Congress MP.