Updated April 23rd, 2024 at 20:43 IST

Shotgun shooter permitted to compete in national trials despite not meeting criteria

The shooter competed in a series of four selection trials and is currently ranked 15th, thus failing to make the national squad.

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The national shooting federation, which is fighting a court battle to uphold its selection criteria in the ongoing trials for Paris Olympics, seems to have bent the rules for one marksman recently, allowing him to participate despite lower-than-requisite scores.

Trap marksman Karan missed the National Rifles Association of India's (NRAI) criteria for shotgun selection trials by two points but was allowed to compete, while several others, who shot identical scores during last year's National Championships, were not considered.

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A letter issued by NRAI in November announcing "Selection Trials as per Shotgun Selection Criteria 2024 & Olympic Selection Criteria 2024 for Shotgun event" states that shooters with a score of 110 in senior men's trap during the 66th National Championship (October-November, 2023) were eligible for the exercise held between December, 2023 and March 2024.

Karan, an Army marksman, shot 108 in the National Championships but his was the only recommendation accepted by the NRAI, while the same exception was not made for a dozen more shooters, who shot identical scores.

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The shooter competed in a series of four selection trials and is currently ranked 15th, thus failing to make the national squad.

NRAI secretary Rajiv Bhatia told PTI that since Karan is a "budding" shooter and his "recommendation had come from the Army", an exception was made for him.

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"We did give an exception as he is a budding, good shooter. There was a difference of just two points and he has been shooting good scores. That's why we introduced him in the trials for selecting the teams for World Cups, World Championships, everything (including Olympics)," said Bhatia.

"We cannot simply go by the rule book (lakeer ke fakeer nahin ban sakte). There was a recommendation from the Army to allow him (for national trials) because he had shot very well at the National Games (in Goa).

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Karan, representing Services Sports Control Board, was the first to be eliminated in the trap finals at the National Games in Goa, finishing sixth.

The NRAI, ironically, is locked in a legal battle with some Olympic aspirants in the Delhi High Court, where it is insisting that no more than top five shooters in rifle and pistol would be allowed in the ongoing trials.

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The process has come under criticism from no less than former national coach and legendary pistol shooter Jaspal Rana, who has said that the federation is not following international norms.

Asked why the trials were not opened for marksmen who shot identical scores at the Nationals, Bhatia said, "I think we allowed him under a special criteria because of his previous scores." Bhatia added that giving an exception in trials didn't mean he was selected in the national squad for international competitions like the World Cups and World Championships.

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"So, was he selected for the World Cups? 'No', we just gave him an opportunity," he said.

"Every state recommends shooters to be included (in trials), and we go by the merit. A marksman can shoot a bad score in a competition. One day you can shoot a bad score." Asked what NRAI would have done had he topped the trials, Bhatia said, "If somebody is performing, then why not (name him in the Olympic squad). How can we not consider him (for Olympics if he had performed)? Aim is to select the best athlete." "But he is not going for any competition. As on today, he is nowhere in the national ranking. I think his ranking is very low (after the trials). But if he had beaten the field, he would have been (in contention)." He added that an exception had also been made for the shooter to promote shotgun shooting as it is not as popular as pistol and rifle.

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"Shotgun, we have to promote as (the numbers are very less) compared to pistol rifle and other categories... it was a recommendation of the Army Marksmanship Unit, which is an affiliate unit of the NRAI.

"It was only one case, we did not open it for everybody. Just one time exception." The NRAI later claimed that no rules were bent to accommodate the shooter, saying he had shot a score of 117 in the National Games 2023 -- "a competition recognised by the Governing Body of the NRAI, which was above the required cut off of 110." The NRAI added that as per their policy, “there were three kinds of competitions which could be considered” – the 66th National Championships, the Digvijay Singh Memorial competition and any other competition recognised by the governing body of NRAI (which the National Games are).

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However, the circulars posted on the NRAI website for those eligible to take part in trials on January 22, 2024 had clearly stated that "As per the Shotgun Selection Criteria 2024 and Olympic Selection Criteria 2024, shooters achieving the following scores during the 66th National Shooting Championship Competitions can participate in the above Selection Trials." In trap, the minimum score required is 110.

The circular didn't mention the National Games or Digvijay Singh Memorial as a criteria for Olympic trials.

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bBesides, there were more than a dozen other trap shooters who shot 108 in the 66th National Championships, but they were excluded from the trials and only one Karan was included. 

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Published April 23rd, 2024 at 20:43 IST