The dust just refuses to settle down on National Sports Awards committee’s decision to overlook pistol coach Jaspal Rana for the Dronacharya Award this year. This, after it had seemed that he would be an automatic choice with the young pistol shooters he had coached, winning a number of medals at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and Youth Olympic Games.
To begin with just a few eyebrows were raised. And no dust would have been raised had the selection committee members, either on their own or on being nudged, and an unnamed Sports Authority of India official not spoken up in defence of their decision to not recommend Jaspal Rana for the prestigious award.
Clearly, if there was unanimity among the panelists, they would have agreed on the reasons and would have articulated the same when the media reached out to them.
The voices heard in public did not even agree if the three names recommended for the award were the unanimous choices or if there was voting.
Of course, it is the panel’s wisdom and discretion that counts more than those sitting outside with no idea of why someone was ignored for an award. It was only when multiple voices cited different reasons that it became controversial. The most telling aspect is the different reasons that different panelists gave for having denied Jaspal Rana the Dronacharya Award.
One said Rana’s proteges had not named him as their personal coach in the TOP Scheme form; another – Anju Bobby George – said he had not fulfilled the criteria of coaching his athletes for a 180 days at a stretch; while an unnamed Sports Authority of India official was quoted as saying that Jaspal Rana was not preferred as he was not present when shooter Manu Bhaker’s pistol malfunctioned in the World Cup final in Munich.
Are Reasons for Rana Snub Valid?
It is not specified in the Scheme for Dronacharya Award for Outstanding Coaches (as the rules for the award are called) that athletes have to name a coach in their TOP Scheme form. Therefore, the mention of Rana’s proteges not having identified him as their coach come across as standing on weak legs.
Indeed, the rules say that 80 percent weightage would be given for the medals won in various international events by the sportspersons trained by the coach for at least 180 preceding days. As chief coach, Jaspal Rana would have overseen the training of all pistol shooters in his charge who won medals in the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Youth Olympic Games in 2018.
It is unlikely that the panelists would have had the time to ask for the attendance sheets of National camps which Rana oversaw for the young pistol shooters in SAI’s Dr Karni Singh Shooting Ranges and elsewhere in the last few years. Yet, if one of the panelists said Jaspal had not met that 180-day criteria, it appears as if SAI officials convinced them of the importance of the rule.
It is pretty well-known that a coach cannot do anything about a malfunction in the final. And it is not as if there was nobody in the coach’s chair when Manu Bhaker pistol let her down. If indeed Bhaker was left to her down devices in the final, the chief coach could have been rapped on his knuckles.
More importantly, in trying to mislead the media by stating this as a reason, the unnamed SAI official ignored the fact that while the last date for nominations for the Dronacharya Award was 30 April, the ISSF World Cup in Munich was held in the month of May.
Can Jaspal Rana be penalised for a ‘disciplinary failure’ that occurred outside the qualification period?
It would be unfair to drag those chosen for the award into this debate but would the panelists vouch that each of these coaches met the proteges-must-name-coaches-in-TOPS-form and the 180-day criteria? At least two coaches picked for the award have not been National Coaches and therefore could not have been with their athletes for 180 days at a stretch.
Curiously, some officials seem to have activated the grapevine thereafter. It justified the committee’s decision and pointed at flaws in Rana’s coaching style – he has laid down a code of conduct that some athletes find harsh – and alleged that he was not the ideal person, temperamentally, to be given the Dronacharya Award. The rules do not state any of this.
Not Just About Jaspal Rana
There was no mention of the exceptional circumstance under which the Committee recommended a second athlete for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. By all accounts, the panel had picked one name for the award – as prescribed in the rules – after due deliberations. Some forces seemed to have worked overnight to get the panel to add a second name.
Yet, despite such devaluation of the National Sports Awards, there is a clamour among athletes and coaches to make it to the list of those selected for these honours. It is time that the Ministry revisits the flawed points system that came to be after a Delhi High Court order in 2014. The annual grand celebrations of human achievement need to be steered clear of controversy.
It must evolve a system in which modern day Arjunas do not decide Dronacharya Award winners. Boxing legend MC Mary Kom nominated her ‘personal coach’ Chhote Lal Yadav and, to her credit, is said to have recused herself from the discussions when his name came up before the awards committee.
Since Ibomcha Singh (2010) and Sagar Mal Dayal (2016) have already been bestowed the honour as her coaches, the committee may have overlooked Chhote Lal Yadav’s claims. She was Chairman of the committee that had recommended Sagar Mal Dayal for the Dronacharya in 2016. Had some other boxers nominated Chote Lal Yadav, perhaps he would have been among the awardees.
(G Rajaraman is a Delhi-based student of sport who has been writing and commenting for 35 years. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)