In the fast-changing dynamics of shooting sport in India, some things are defying logic. The way the age landscape is changing in the sport, it won’t be long before 13 or 14-year-olds start winning medals in major international competitions — that is if the government further relaxes it’s import norms further!
So when the ‘age rules’ of the sport are changing, shouldn’t the people who run the sport in the country too begin to make the sport more attractive — and lucrative -– for the youngsters.
Take for example the country’s pistol sensation Saurabh Chaudhary, who has won a bagful of gold medals right from the Youth Olympic Games to the highly-competitive ISSF World Cup, to the Asian Games. The soft-spoke teenager from Kalian village in Meerut district has so far won seven gold medals in two years – 2017 and 2018, has a world record and two junior world records, besides some more gold medals in the 10m air pistol mixed team category.
Indian shooting has not seen such a precocious talent, even though the likes of Jaspal Rana and Abhinav Bindra started giving indication of their immense talent when they were quite young. But, they too will agree that they didn’t win so many medals — or break so many records — before they were 17. And Saurabh Chaudhary is still 11 days shy of turning 17.
The point being made here is that if a sportsperson deserves an accolade, or an award, he or she should get it immediately, irrespective of his or her age. Isn’t there a saying that “age is just a number”. We tend to use this axiom in the context of some elderly person achieving a feat. For youngsters, the general feeling is that, they have plenty of time to achieve their goals.
As the national shooting federation announced its recommendations for this year’s Arjuna Awards, Saurabh’s name was surprisingly missing from the list. While pistol shooter Heena Sidhu and shotgun shooter Ankur Mittal’s names were recommended for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the highest sporting honour in the country, Anjum Moudgil, Shahzar Rizvi and Om Prakash Mitharval’s names were recommended for the Arjuna Awards.
The 23-year-old Mitharwal, winner of the gold medal in 50m pistol at the 2018 World Championship at Changwon last year, also won two bronze medals at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year. While not taking anything away from Mitharval, it is important to point out that 50m pistol is not an Olympic discipline.
The pundits who point out that the Arjuna Awards are a reward for consistency should bear in mind that Mitharval’s only successful year has been 2018, not before or after. By that logic, Saurabh, as per the ISSF website, has won seven golds and a silver medal in 10 international competitions. The ISSF doesn’t keep record of mixed team events, otherwise that tally would have been in double digit.
Another 10m air pistol shooter, 25-year-old Shahzar Rizvi had a World Cup gold and silver last year with a world record, but when one compares the achievements of Shahzar and Saurabh, the latter is way ahead – with no one in sight.
We still have fond memories of 18-year-old Abhinav Bindra receiving the Arjuna Award from the President of India. That award and the subsequent Khel Ratna boosted his morale and he went on to become the first individual Olympic gold medallist from the country.
There is no rule book or guideline which says an athlete cannot get the Arjuna if he is 16 or 17-years-old. Let those guidelines be for watching ‘Parental Guidance’ movies, not for recommending an immensely talented shooter for a national award. Saurabh deserves it.