India’s Olympic shooting team will take a chartered flight to Croatia next week, where they will set up a training camp for a few months before proceeding directly to the Tokyo Olympics in July, it was announced on Monday.
The prevailing Covid-19 situation in the country has disrupted the training programme of all Olympic-bound athletes. On Saturday, weightlifter Mirabai Chanu, too, left the country and made the United States her base. Like the shooters, she too will travel directly to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics, which begin on July 23.
The 13 rifle and pistol shooters selected for the Olympics, along with coaches, will assemble in New Delhi on Tuesday. The two skeet shooters will continue to train in Italy – Angad Vir Bajwa is already there while Mairaj Khan is likely to join him.
Some shooters and coaches, who are yet to be vaccinated for Covid-19, will be inoculated on May 6, before the team departs for Zagreb on May 11.
“The visa formalities will be completed this week,” said a team official. “It was necessary to take this urgent step because there has been a long delay in resuming our camp and given the current situation in Delhi, it would not have been safe to train there.”
In a statement, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) said the shooters will participate in the European Championship, which begins on May 20. India will take part in the non-competitive Minimum Qualifying Score (MQS) category, where shooters can take part in the qualifying rounds but won’t be eligible to fight for medals.
The decision to take a chartered flight, the NRAI said, was taken to ‘nullify’ the threat of shooters getting infected by the virus. It wasn’t mentioned, however, who will foot the bill for the travel arrangement.
“The (European Championships) is scheduled between May 20-June 06, 2021, and the squad will be staying back in Zagreb for training, before directly moving on to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, scheduled in July. All the arrangements have been made in association with the Croatian Shooting Federation,” the NRAI said in a statement.
“The NRAI has also made arrangements for a chartered flight for the entire squad to fly to Zagreb, in order to nullify the threat of contracting infection to the maximum.”
The shooting team is one of India’s biggest medal hopes at the Olympics, and has been in prolific form at tournaments held before and after the pandemic began. However, with several countries imposing restrictions on visitors from India because of the pandemic, the team’s plan to travel to Croatia had previously hit a roadblock.
Last Friday, the NRAI had devised a Plan B, according to which the shooters would have continued training in New Delhi till the Olympics. However, the idea did not enthuse many, given that temperatures during the Delhi Summer in May and June can go up to 50 degrees Celsius, which is not conducive for shooting – especially for the outdoor 25m and 50m rifle/pistol and shotgun events.
A near-three-month camp before the Olympics, too, is not ideal, a coach said.
“But we had no other choice because of the current situation. Three months is a very long period to be in a training camp. We plan our training such that there will be a few off days in between but in an ideal scenario, it would be best if shooters got some days to spend in a different environment before the Olympics. But these are unusual times. This is the best-case scenario for us right now,” the coach said.
Fifteen Indian shooters have qualified for the Games, which will be held from July 23 to August 8.