Exclusive: Former Coach Jaspal Rana Breaks Silence on Manu Bhaker Controversy
'If I have been quiet all this while, it does not mean I am guilty,” Jaspal Rana told The Quint.
Indian shooters’ dismal show at the ongoing Tokyo Olympic Games evoked a sharp reaction from the shooting fraternity and fans alike. This was the third Olympics in a row that the 'pre-tournament favourites' failed to fire on the big stage.
The predominant theme, however, was the Manu Bhaker-Jaspal Rana saga that brought out reports of infighting and differences among coaches in the shooting contingent’s build-up to the all-important Games.
As India came a cropper in the 10-metre air pistol individual and mixed team events, where World No. 2 shooters Manu and Saurabh Chaudhary, were primed to win a medal, National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh went on record saying junior pistol coach Jaspal was the 'only negative factor in the whole thing (wrangling within the team)', while Manu too blamed the coach for 'ignoring her' in the lead-up to the Games.
In his first-ever reaction to the fiasco, Padma Shri awardee and former Asian and Commonwealth Games champion Jaspal Rana said that those representing and running the sport in the country should 'stop manipulating and blaming others'.
“The NRAI can blame me. Everybody can blame me. But is that the only thing that happened? Are they saying they have no role to play in India’s poor showing at the Olympics?” Rana said in a conversation with the Quint
“It is unfortunate what has happened, and everyone is responsible. If trying to do my job in the best possible manner is negative, then yes, I am a negative (influence)! I think they shall stop manipulating and fooling people. Everyone is to be blamed.”
‘Why The Fuss About The T-Shirt Message?’
In what was an infamous split, Rana and Manu parted ways mere months ahead of the Olympics. The young shooter, it is learnt, was 'displeased' with the coach for not spending enough time to hone her skills. Things reached the point of no return when Rana put up a personal message sent by Manu’s mother Sumedha on the back of his white t-shirt at the New Delhi World Cup in March earlier this year.
“Everyone is talking about the message displayed on my t-shirt, but does anyone know who sent that message? Manu cannot complain because she never sent that message to me. So, what is the fuss about?" he asked.
“I am a national coach for the last 10 years and which national coach receives such treatment and messages from the parents of a shooter? Am I answerable to them (the parents) for the decisions I make in the interest of my wards?” Rana fumed.
“It is unfortunate that such things happen to people after doing so much for your sport. Yes, I did put up that message but if this message came from Manu’s mother, she does not have any right to criticise a national coach. I had to put it out for them to remember what they were doing. And please remember, I never put anyone’s name on the message (on my t-shirt),” said Rana presenting his side of the story.
‘Was Working in Manu’s Interest, Not Against Her’
Rana and Manu enjoyed a fruitful run in 2018 and 2019 before things began to sour when Rana favoured the 23-year-old Chinki Yadav to compete in the 25 metre sport pistol event ahead of Manu.
He wanted Manu, who competed in 10m air pistol, 10 m mixed events, 25 metre sport pistol, to concentrate only on two events.
“Which shooter in the world competes in three different events?” Rana asked. “It was an extra burden on Manu and even if you pick up scores from last year, Chinki defeated Manu in almost every event in the 25 metre sport pistol. Yes, I supported Chinki because as a coach, I can see merit. Chinki deserved a place in the Olympic squad in the 25m sport pistol category, but we let her down."
“I can say this with guarantee that had Manu competed only in the 10m air pistol and 10m mixed teams event at Tokyo, she would have surely brought home a medal. An athlete has to know where to focus and how to play as per their strengths,” Rana asserted.
“I have been picked for this job because I understand this sport and I am here to make decisions. These 17 or 18-year-old shooters cannot decide how a national team will run or which players should be picked up. That decision is best left to the coach,” the 45-year-old added.
“I was not working against Manu. I was working in her best interest and sadly, they perhaps do not understand that.”
Speaking about his coaching approach and Manu’s comment that she felt ignored, Rana said he gave equal time to all his shooters.
“For me, everyone is the same. At the New Delhi World Cup, I was training Manu, Chinki and Abhishek. All three of them had their events at the same time and I was running from one range to another to provide my best support to them. I do not differentiate. In fact, someone shall ask NRAI on why I did not receive my accreditation for almost 4-5 days and had to coach these players from the stands. Why are they not speaking about their own lacking? If I have been quiet all this while, it does not mean I am guilty,” the junior pistol coach emphasised.
'Was Ready to Continue Work With Manu'
Rana though insisted that he was 'ready to train' Manu at the Olympic Games. “We had a meeting after the World Cup and discussions were held. I was okay to go ahead and coach her, but later I saw that another coach (Ronak Pandit) had already been appointed. Now, it is not my style to barge in when someone else had already been asked to step in. What could I have done?”
Manu, however, wasn’t the first player who refused to work with Jaspal. Earlier, young shooters Anish Bhanwala and Saurabh too had expressed their reservations about training under Rana, owing to his tough manner of coaching.
“This has not happened with me for the first time. Prior to these three, there have been other shooters as well who have left. At the end of the day, I am a coach and I have to put my foot down to bring the desired results. I want my shooters to be disciplined and focused. Of course, they would like someone who is lenient but I have a job at hand,” he said.
Asked about his future with the national team, Rana was non-committal.
“I do not know,” he said wryly. “I cannot say. All I can say at this stage is thank you very much for the nice ending!”
He, however, had words of praise for his wards. “Manu, Saurabh and others have a great future ahead. They are very young and have great potential. Saurabh reached the finals in Tokyo with fabulous scores. By the time they compete in the next Olympics, they would be able to produce much better performances,” he signed off
(The author has over 16 years of experience in sport writing and formerly worked as Deputy Sports Editor at The Asian Age. She specialises in hockey writing and has covered one Olympics, two Hockey World Cups, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.