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It is special for I am giving back to the sport of shooting: Gagan Narang on Khel Protsahan Puraskar

New Delhi, Aug 28: After getting conferred with Arjuna Award, Khel Ratna and Padma Shri, India shooter Gagan Narang will now be receiving the Khel Protsahan Puraskar on August 29 from the hands of President of India Shri Ramnath Kovind.

Narang, the Bronze Medal winner in the Men's 10 m Air Rifle Event at 2012 London Olympics, will be bestowed with this award for his Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNSPF) which is working towards the promotion and development of the sport in the country.

In the last eight years, Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNSPF) has set up 11 training centres across eight states in the country and training young aspiring talents in the sport of shooting. Around 1100-1200 kids are trained across GNSPF training centres every year and nearly 30 per cent of them pursue it further. The foundation not just trains kids, in fact, it starts with a 6-8 month long training programme for the coaches which is helping in the promotion of the sport at grass-root level.

On the eve of the award ceremony, the 36-year-old shooter - who is a recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the highest sporting honour in the country - expressed his delight and the challenges he faced while setting up the foundation.

When asked about the importance of the award and how is this recognition going to help him, the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist in Men's 10 m Air Rifle singles event, said, "I was conferred with Arjuna in 2005 and then on I went on receiving Khel Ratna and Padma Shri. However, this award is special because the previous ones were for my performances but this is award is special because it is me giving back to the system and the sport. With this role I have fulfilled two of my goals, first, helping my team and second improving the base of the sport.

Talking about the logic behind setting up the foundation Narang said, "We saw that not many people were taking up the sport because there were a lot of wrong notions amongst the parents such as, is it a safe sport, it is a very expensive sport, what are the chances of success, etc. Initially, we learnt about the challenges and along with Pawan, the co-founder of the foundation, we came up with a structure. At the start, we were supported by a foundation called Lakshya in Pune which gave us an initial seed funding of Rs 20 lakh to train 20 talented athletes. I put in my entire Commonwealth Games 2010 prize money into the academy to subsidise the sport.

"We went to the equipment and pellet manufacturers and requested them to provide the weapons at a discounted price so that it could be accessible for the athletes. Because the guns and the equipment aren't cheap. I remember, my parents had to sell a part of their land to buy me a gun and we lived in rented accommodation for 20 years. So the challenges that I faced in my formative years, I didn't want any parent to face the same obstacles. So that is how we started, and in the first year itself, we got the result because these 20 kids won almost 60 international medals. Just to name a few you had Shreya Gawande, Shriyanka Sadhangi, Apurvi (Chandela) was also part of this, Rakesh Manpad - who is Apurvi's coach - was also part of it. Even Heena (Sidhu) and Rahi (Sanorbhat) were also part of the academy initially."

Talking about the different kind of support the foundation provided to the young aspirants, Narang said, "We had also provided them with the support that wasn't existing in the country which was a support of a gunsmith, a masseur, a mental conditioning coach. And the success of these 20 shooters made us realise that there is no dearth of talent in the country and if they are provided with the right kind of training and guidance, they'll do wonders. So, that's how we decided to broad base the academy and targetted tier-two and tier-three cities."

"We started working on a curriculum and enrolled whosoever wished to pursue the sport was welcomed. Our first motive was to get people initiated into the sport to understand whether they have the talent or not and that too at a fraction of cost. Now, we are able to achieve the elite level of training for the entire year, which is lesser than the cost of a gun," he added further.

Talking about the change in perception of the people towards the game, Narang said, "A lot has changed and that has been because of the performance of Indian shooting over the last few years. The medal hauls of our shooters encouraged the people to take up shooting as a sport. In fact, I'll tell you an interesting incident, we didn't win a single medal in Rio Olympics but the day PV Sindhu won a silver medal at Rio Olympics we got maximum calls from the parents to get their kids enrolled. Although there is no connection between shooting and badminton, parents started thinking seriously about their kids pursuing a career in sport. That it itself was a wonderful surprise to us that not just for shooting but entire Indian sport as a whole because the outlook of the people is changing towards sports."

Talking about the impressive performance of the young Indian shooters he said, "It is because a lot of former shooters have taken up coaching now and they are training the young talents. So the knowledge of the sport that is back in the system is driving the juniors forward. What we achieved in 10 years, these kids are achieving in 3-4 years. So the growth has been fantastic.

Talking about India's prospects at Tokyo Olympics 2020, he said, "We are definitely going to do well in Tokyo than in Rio. With the system kept in place by the government and the federation, things have improved drastically. Things are streamlined now, players no longer have to toil hard to get themselves enrolled with the federation and later wait for the updates. Everything is online now so a kid can check the updates regarding his/her match sitting in his/her city. So, they don't have to stand in long queues to get themselves registered and learn about their match timings and opponents. Everything is online now, so the credit goes to the federation for making things smooth.

When asked about the challenges his foundation faces, he said the shortage of fund is the biggest obstacle being a non-profit organisation. So, we hope that this recognition from the government will help us attract more corporates to join with us under CSR (corporate social responsibility) and that way not just shooting, our talent pool in other sports improves.

Talking about the achievements of the foundation and how well the kids are trained by the coaches, Narang stressed, "We opened our first branch in Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh) and within a period of three years, three of our kids (Shreya Agarwal, Mahima and Rubina) have created world records and won medals at World Cups and World Championships. This Rubina is the daughter of a rickshaw-puller.

Talking about his personal training and future preparations, Narang said, "Yes, I have started my training but can't say about Tokyo. Tokyo is in my mind but that depends on how I do in the upcoming competitions. Next month we have the selection trials and if a miracle happens then I'll be selected for the Asian Championships. I am working hard for that to happen."

When asked about the IOC's call to boycott the CWG 2022 because shooting doesn't feature in their schedule, Narang said, "Boycotting a sporting event would be unfair with the other sports. But at the same time, we'll have to stand united when it comes to the national interest. I am sure that what needs to be done, will be done and I am hoping that this issue is currently being taken at the highest level, whether it is the ministry, NRAI or ISSF talking to the organising committee. All possible solutions have been offered to them and I hope that the good sense prevails in the organising committee and shooting is included in the CWG 2022."

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Story first published: Wednesday, August 28, 2019, 18:21 [IST]
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