India’s core group of shooters preparing for the Tokyo Olympics can get back to training at the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) deciding to open the state-of-the-art facility on Tuesday. It would be a big relief for the shooters who have not trained much since the lockdown began in late March. Air rifle shooters were still training at home or local facilities but 25m pistol and 50m rifle shooters were unable to train due to the dearth of ranges that allow firearm shooting.
Indian shooters have won 15 quota places for Tokyo, and most of them train at the Karni Singh ranges. The shooters have rented accommodation nearby. Some had returned home after the selection trials just before the lockdown. The shooting federation has named a core group of 34 shooters, including the quota-place winners, for Olympics preparation.
SAI said in the first phase, the facility would be opened only for those likely to make it to the Olympics and form part of the core squad. “All precautions as per the guidelines issued by the government and the SAI SOP would be strictly adhered to at the ranges to provide a safe training environment to the shooters and maintain social-distancing norms to prevent any transmission of the virus,” it said.
“The shooters will have to book online training slots to avoid crowding at the range. There will be single point entry to the range with adherence to thermal screening, as per the laid down procedure. The shooters also need to download Aarogya Setu, the status of which would be checked at the entry gate,” it said.
As per training SOP shooters must train only on alternate lanes. No equipment sharing will be allowed and shooting stations must be sanitised before and after use.
Sanjeev Rajput, who is bidding to compete in his third Olympics, was relieved. “It is a welcome move. I was asking the authorities everyday when the range will open because it is the first time in my career since 2001 that I am away from the rifle—not fired a single shot in such a long time,” the seasoned shooter said.
“I have been in touch with some of the shooters who have qualified and they have started training in Europe, Serbia, Croatia. I was losing on time because once we start it will take time to get adjusted and find rhythm.”
Air rifle world No.1, Divyansh Panwar, who was training at his home close to the range, was keen to soak in the experience again. “When you train in the range the feel is very different. I will be able to mentally prepare for the Olympics with the start of normal training. I will start going to the range once we get instructions,” he said.
Panwar’s coach Deepak Dubey, who is also attached to the range, said all health precautions are being taken. “The range is being prepared, sanitised and every possible safety protocols are being put in place,” said Dubey, also an India coach.
Young Manu Bhaker has been practising 10m shooting at her home range in Jhajjar, but she was unable to train in 25m sports pistol. “It is a great step. There is no range in Haryana (to train in 25m), and for that I will have to visit Karni Singh range. I have to check the situation on the Haryana-Delhi border; if everything is alright I will soon start normal training,” she said.
Anish Bhanwala, who is set to get India’s 16th quota in rapid fire, has a rented accommodation near the range, but is not in a hurry. “I am at my home in Karnal and training in 10m and doing holding practice for 25m. I will wait for the situation to get slightly better in Delhi and the camp to start before I (decide to) join.”
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) has selected the core group but is yet to decide on starting the national camp for elite shooters. With the sports ministry de-recognising National Sports Federations on a Delhi high court order, any national camp will have to be organised by SAI. NRAI has called a meeting on July 15 to take a decision. “Now that the Karni Singh range is available we have more clarity. This was the first step,” NRAI general secretary Rajeev Bhatia said.