Two discordant notes by two of the best marksmen in the world have brought the National Rifle Association of India — the federation that governs shooting sport in the country — in the limelight at a time when two of the most important events on the calendar, Asian Games and the World Championships, are around the corner.
While Russell Mark, an Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion, has targeted the NRAI in a letter, saying that a section of the NRAI administration is “letting down the athletes time and again”, Olympian Joydeep Karmakar has gone on record saying “actions of a few bad apples will have a rippling effect on the shooters’ performance”.
Both the former top-notch shooters quit their posts as national trap and 50m rifle coaches respectively after the NRAI’s reluctance to renew their contracts.
In fact, Mark also pointed out the attrition rate among foreign coaches who take up assignments in India.
“The Indian athletes were never the problem. In my opinion, it is a small section of the administration above them that kept letting them down time and time again. I stress that not all the staff or board members of the NRAI are incompetent and lazy, they are some great young employees and talented directors, but the association needs a clean out at the top,” wrote Mark in his letter, a copy of which is with indianshooting.com.
“It is time for a change. This has been going on for a long time. A quick Google search will reveal just how many world-class coaches have resigned in front of us.”
Mark also indicated he was left with little choice but to quit because of the “dictatorial style of leadership” and “toxic culture” in the NRAI.
The NRAI may have spent crores of rupees on Indian shooters’ training and preparations before mega events — a fine example being the entire Tokyo Olympic-bound contingent being sent to Croatia to train for 60 days –, but the results have been few and far between.
The contingent has gone without a medal in two successive Olympics – 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo – and Mark believes NRAI is doing precious little to improve the athletes’ physical and mental wellbeing.
“This has been a systematic problem and a toxic culture has been allowed to form by a poor dictatorial style of leadership. This is an administration that is more concerned about how they are perceived in the eyes of SAI (Sports Authority of India) and OGC (Olympic Games Committee) rather than focusing on the athletes’ physical and mental health,” said Mark in his letter.
Mark’s focus was on the job he had been entrusted with by NRAI last May, and the impediments the 59-year-old faced in the year-long stint has left him fearing for the future of his former wards.
The Asian Games in Hangzhou are in September, the Paris Olympics start around the same time next year, and the exit of Mark, wife and skeet coach Lauryn, who quit at the same time, and national 50m rifle coach Karmakar bodes ill for the shooters.
Mark termed the shotgun team as one with a “lot of potential and was perhaps the best on earth”, but has put on record his objection to the way they are treated by the NRAI. “Appalling” is the term he used in his communication with indianshooting.com.
While Mark may have found a new role after quitting his India job – he is now the coach of the Qatar shooting team — Karmakar, one of the best 50m rifle shooter India has produced is still licking his wounds after the treatment meted out to him.
The Kolkata-based shooter, who missed the 2012 London Olympics medal by a whisker, said that a “lobby” was gunning for his head and how the “actions of a few bad apples will have a rippling effect on the shooters’ performance” in the foreseeable future.
The two shooting icons’ assessment of the situation should be a wake-up call for the NRAI. The Asian Games are less than 70 days away and the 2024 Paris Olympics is barely a year away.
The writing is on the wall and till the time NRAI sets its house in order by taking corrective measures, questions will continue to rain on it, and the hardest hit in this turf war will be the shooters — the sport’s biggest stakeholders.