NRAI goes by medal probability, not fairness, in finalising Tokyo teamApril 10, 2021
There wasn’t much amiss when the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) announced the team that would be travelling to Tokyo for the rescheduled Olympic Games in July-August. The 16-member squad that will compete in 10 different events is touted as one of the strongest shooting teams India has ever fielded. Yet, there were a few surprises when the team was announced last Sunday.
It is important to understand that, just like in wrestling, an Olympic quota won by an athlete does not belong to the athlete but to the country. The national federation then decides who will be given the quota. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) had made it clear that the grappler who wins the quota will go to the Olympics.
The NRAI, however, applied a different policy which sees Elavenil Valarivan – the only shooter in the squad to not have won the quota – make it to the team, and women’s 25m pistol shooter Chinki Yadav – who won her quota at the 2019 Asian Championships and a gold at the New Delhi World Cup last week – dropped to the ‘reserve’ bench.
Before the 2018 season, NRAI had published a carefully- designed formula – that considered scores over eight major events (starting with the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang to ‘the first World Cup in 2020’), podium finishes, event final appearances, and granted bonus points to quota winners – to decide who will be sent to Tokyo.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, forced that policy to change.
“The policy was designed for a normal situation, but with the pandemic the situation was not going to be normal. So we had to change it,” says Deepali Deshpande, the high-performance coach of the senior rifle team.
“We had to take into account their current form, but that doesn’t just mean what happened at the New Delhi World Cup. We looked at results that started from the 2019 National Championship (December 2019 to January 2020). Basically, it was the first three months of 2020 and the first three months of 2021 – some part before the pandemic and some part after it.”
The two berths for the women’s 10m air rifle event saw a tight contest between three shooters – Apurvi Chandela, Anjum Moudgil and Valarivan. Based on the original NRAI rubric, as of December 2019, Chandela and Moudgil were likely to receive the quotas they won – their respective scores of 632.77 and 631.22 bettered Valarivan’s 630.25.
At this point though, 20-year-old Valarivan had started to hit her stride and had captured gold at the Rio World Cup and World Cup Final in Putian, China. She’s also the current World No. 1 in her discipline.
She continued in that vein of form at the few domestic events in 2020 and 2021 and replaced Moudgil in the final individual air rifle squad.
Mixed Rifle teams tinkered with
In the 2019 season, Moudgil had formed a strong partnership with Divyansh Singh Panwar in the 10m mixed air rifle event, winning gold at the competitive Beijing and Munich World Cups.
Valarivan, however, paired up with Panwar to win gold at the New Delhi World Cup that concluded last week. And her inclusion in the squad for the individual event has resulted in her replacing Moudgil as Panwar’s partner at Tokyo. Instead, Moudgil will team up with veteran Deepak Kumar to form India’s second mixed air rifle team at the Olympics.
“Somebody shooting an individual event and then at a team event will have an advantage – of having shot a match before – which is what Elavenil and Divyansh will have,” says Deshpande, who is also Moudgil’s personal coach.
“Both of them are anyway the highest-ranked Indians (Valarivan is World No. 1, Panwar is No. 2). So this was just a case of bringing the best players together to form the team. That was the best option for us.”
Chinki Yadav out
The 23-year-old from Bhopal, Yadav, picked up her career’s first senior World Cup medal at the New Delhi event. But that was not enough for the women’s 25 m pistol shooter to keep the quota place she won for the Olympics.
An Olympic quota can be swapped between events provided it’s in the same gender. Therefore, the NRAI took the decision to shift Yadav’s quota to the women’s 50m 3-position event to allow Moudgil to compete in her pet event.
By shifting Yadav’s quota, India no longer had maximum permissible slots in the women’s 25m event – Rahi Sarnobat was the only representative in the event. This meant that a path opened up for Manu Bhaker to compete in the event.
Bhaker to compete in three events
The talented teenager had already secured an Olympic spot in the 10m air pistol event, and with Saurabh Chaudhary has a formidable mixed air pistol partnership – they’ve won gold in each of the last five World Cups they’ve paired up in.
But with Yadav’s quota moved to the rifle event, there was a chance for Bhaker to earn the remaining 25m event quota.
“Double Starters may be entered in other shooting events provided they have achieved the required MQS (minimum qualification score) and the NOC maximum quota per event is not exceeded,” reads the rule published by the ISSF.
The 19-year-old, a prominent competitor in the sports pistol event, qualifies as a double starter.
“When we select teams, we have to look towards the probability of medals, who has the greater chance of getting medals. That’s how we came up with these decisions,” Deshpande says.
“We can’t think along the lines of ‘let’s give everyone a chance.’ No, at the end of the day, we’re going to try to win medals, so we have to send the shooters with the best chances of winning.”