Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WANTED a fair policy for selection

Every professionally run sports federation must have a simple and transparent system of team selection that serves the aim of selecting a winning team. A good selection policy comforts the athlete by providing clear and justifiable benchmarks.

You would think such an important policy would be discussed among current top athletes’ coaches and experts on the sport, well not so in some cases, such as the NRAI.

Undue haste to pass flawed policy:

The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) formulated a ‘New Selection Policy’ and put in into effect from 13th Mar 2010 after only 2 days of public scrutiny. Was this the intent of the policy makers or was it a mistake?

Most shooters were just too shocked and dumbstruck by the contents of this 16 page legally-worded policy that showed no understanding of the sport of shooting, to even react in the given time frame.

India has incredible depth in shooting – this policy was formulated without taking into confidence the wide array world-class shooters from rifle, pistol and shotgun. Two Olympic medalists, two World Champions, multi Asian Games Gold medalist, 3 world record holders and yet for the promulgation of a far reaching ‘new selection policy’ the NRAI consults none of the above.

But it was not just the shooters who were taken aback. This new policy was a surprise to many members of the governing body of the NRAI too, as reported in the TOI.

What are the flaws in ‘New Selection Policy?’

1] Disrupts training in a critical year:

For India, 2010 is a very important year because of Commonwealth Games Delhi. Every Indian shooter wants to deliver an outstanding performance in front of a ‘home crowd’. Tragically for shooters, the year has been a chain of fiascos that has now led up to the biggest one of all. It remains to be seen is whether the NRAI is willing to make amends and correct the policy by deliberations on it or will it stand by its flawed policy like a totalitarian regime.

2] Aggregate scoring system worse than school exams

The basic premise of the ‘new selection policy’ is to have a starting line (base line) score from whereon the aggregate scores will keep adding on – from the National Championships, trials I and trial II and for some, a different event score could be substituted for the trials.

The policy also does lip service to giving merit points for those winning top level competitions and an Olympic quota place. The aggregate points of each trial will add on through one calendar year against each shooter and finally the one that has higher aggregate gets selected to the team.

Sounds quite okay, you might think? Sounds more like a grading system for class eight students. Exam 1 + Exam 2 + an alternate exam substitute for marks. Deduction of marks if you question the system and whoever has the highest marks gets selected.

3] No level playing field for trials

For 2010, the base line scores taken by the NRAI are from trials that were held in Feb before the Policy was made. Why? Was it done to accommodate someone? Does this decision not create a condition of prejudice?

To stay above-board, shouldn’t the policy have been announced first and then a base line score be taken (if at all). To make matters worse, all shooters could not participate in the trial in Feb 2010. So some shooters had scores counted from the Commonwealth Championships which was 10 days apart.

In fact, it is on record that some shooters who had initially agreed to take part in the trials, pulled out hours before the trial to be tested later and they were allowed to do so by the NRAI.

Climatic conditions play a big part in shooting and bad conditions influence the game and thus, scores. Did the weather forecast have anything to do with it? It was cold cloudy and rainy that day.

So is this trial fit to be counted as baseline score? No! If the baseline is flawed, how can the outcome be considered valid?

4] No recognition for ‘winning form’ closer to big competitions

Why should this policy require aggregate scores through the year? How can a score shot in Feb 2010 be considered for team selection for an event that’s scheduled in October i.e. the Commonwealth Games?

This aggregate system is like a deficit system (and ironically the policy too calls it a deficit system). For example if a shooter has poor form at the start of the year, and hopes to get into the Indian team by June, he must first shoot a high score to fulfill the deficit score of Feb and still score higher than what others have scored in June.

Simply put, at the selection trials in Patiala scheduled from 18th Mar 2010, some shooters have to shoot just 160 targets out of 150 targets to make it to the Indian team, yes 160 out of 150.

5] Pruning shooters, or pruning India’s medal winning pool

This deficit scoring system further states that shooters are required to notch up the aggregate score to prevent being ‘pruned from the core group’ and losing any chance of even being a part of the selection process for the Commonwealth Games New Delhi 2010.

Even shooting a new world record of 150 out of 150 will not count as it does not fulfill the deficit of low form in the beginning of the year it has to be 160 out of 150. Is this a sane policy? Have these people ever played sport to understand that there are good days & bad days, periods of bad form and good form?

And why prune the list of probable from 6 shooters to 5? Countries like China are doubling the strength and depth of top shooters so that they have a world-class and large pool to choose in-form shooters before a competition?

Why are we axing a pool we have developed, seven months before the Commonwealth Games? Shouldn’t we have the full strength of our current core group available to us till it’s time to announce the Indian team for the Commonwealth Games 2010? As the host country, do we want to create a position of strength or dilute our chances even before the competition?

6] Discouraging younger talent

The new policy says, “At any point of time in a year the national pool of 12 shooters will be considered in each category and event for the National Team selection”. Its also mentioned that this pool will be selected from the National Championships. What this implies is that the difference between 12th and 13th may be in decimals but shooters from 13th onwards can pack their guns/rifles and wait for the next year.

Their hopes and desires all crumpled and their motivation down in the dumps. Meanwhile the top 12 shooters will continue training as they have competitions to look forward to and keep getting better with match practice. So probably the same people will retain the top 12 slots the next year too. The development of the sport of shooting could do with a little more foresight.

7] Flawed system of taking International scores

The system of taking international scores is flawed. Its well known in shooting circles that some ranges afford good sighting of targets and are thus high scoring ranges and then there are others that are low scoring ranges.

Competing and coming good in tough conditions should be applauded but instead will be penalized by taking into account the low score registered as the policy has dealt with the matter very mathematically. In some cases the last international score will be counted and thus even a one point margin score over your own team mate will be rewarded by a place in the team despite the high margin of lower score as compared to the same team mate at a just concluded competition of the same level.

8] Gross under utillisation of foreign coaches

We are paying thousands of dollars to our foreign coaches. They are specialists in leading sportspersons to high performances? Above all they are professionals who work closely with sportspersons, and can make a huge difference in physical and mental conditioning.

Yet the policy states: “role of foreign coaches is restricted to technical training only” Why prescribe such a limited role? Shouldn’t we be taking advantage of their ability to understand the sport and the sportsmen and thus play an important role in team selection. We don’t go to the best doctor and tell him what to do?

Opportunity wasted by NRAI

These are just a few of the drawbacks of the New Selection policy. It pains me to say there are many more but do not find a mention here since I am just driving home the point. The NRAI has wasted an opportunity to create a policy that would attract more people to the sport of shooting and encourage shooters.

Big match temperament cannot be mathematically calculated by the scores shot and added over the year like a school mark sheet but composite in the medals won under good and bad conditions and importantly, current form.

In India, sports federations are private societies. But since they represent India, their actions reflect the collective will of the country. How many sportspersons will suffer before someone recognizes the injustices being done under the garb of autonomy?

Let the sports federations work with sportspersons and not against us.

It’s not easy for a competing sportsman to talk and if I have spoken, I do hope people of India realize my deep anguish.

I appeal to the Sports Minister of India and the fair minded souls of NRAI to immediately withdraw the flawed ‘new selection policy’ and open it up for deliberations transparently before the sport of shooting is irreversibly damaged.