Gagan Narang aims higher with national sports award
India sharpshooter says Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar is massive encouragement for Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation to continue polishing raw shooting diamonds to create Olympic gold medalists
After excelling at the epitome of the sport, the Olympics, with a bronze medal at the 2012 London Games, India's ace marksman Gagan Narang has been busy giving back to the game that has given him so much. He has set up over a dozen training centres across the country as part of the Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation (GNSPF) to teach and promote shooting to young aspirants. His efforts will bear fruit on Thursday (August 29) when President of India, Ram Nath Kovind will present Narang the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar at the Arjuna Awards ceremony in New Delhi on the occasion of National Sports Day.
In an interview with mid-day, ahead of the big moment, Narang, 36, takes time off from his busy shooting schedule in Chennai to speak about how GNSPF came into being and has eventually flourished thanks to his selfless and dedicated team.
How would you compare this Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar to any of the other individual awards you have won for the country?
This is very different because this one is for my team and co-founder Pawan Singh, and comes as a vindication of our efforts to make the sport of shooting accessible besides providing an environment of excellence at the grassroots. We have worked very hard on an idea over the last eight years and that has produced 160-plus international medals. We have a definite target going towards Olympics 2024 and 2028. The award comes as an impetus, a massive encouragement for the GNSPF team. As for my other awards, they were purely for my sporting achievements, so that's a different feeling.
Eight years ago, what inspired you to start GNSPF?
I always wanted to give back to the system because I felt I owed it. I've always spoken of how the Indian system produced me. But somewhere deep down, I had a burning desire to better it, assist it. I wanted kids to have access to the best facilities right at the start and shorten their span from start to podium finish. In many ways, we have been able to do that. There were many permutations and combinations. Project Leap, that started three years ago with OGQ, is a step in the right direction.
It is learnt that you invested your own prize money into the project? Could you tell us what amount this was?
It’s public knowledge how much I got after CWG 2010. It’s primarily that money which was put as the seed capital for GNSPF. But I had to keep topping up in the initial years. So, a lion’s share of the prize money I won after the London Olympics also went towards supporting the foundation. I didn’t take any money home. I bought presents for my parents and friends and gave the rest to GNSPF.
Elavenil Valarivan is one of your trainees who has excelled internationally. Could you tell us about the start of her journey with GNSPF?
Ela is from the Ahmedabad. We spotted her at the Sanskardham School which is a DLSS [District Level Sports School] center. Under the Sports Authority of Gujarat, the Center of excellence and DLSS schemes were envisioned and implemented by the then chief minister Narendra Modi. Ela came through our talent identification module. She is an exceptional talent with a good head on her shoulders. As a mentor, that is as much as I should say for now. I should let her gun speak now, as it did for me.
How many GNSPF centres do you have across India and what is the strength of trainees?
Currently, I we have 16 training centres across the country [in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu] where we train over a 1,000 shooters annually.
What is the major challenge that you face in running these centres?
The biggest challenge is constant funding. I want to give the kids more facilities and that depends on the kind of funding we get. We have the vision, the innovation, the talent, the hard work and the desire to make a difference selflessly but need funds to produce champions from each of these centres. We have a team that works on revenue generation but I can tell you it’s very tough. I don’t blame the funders because sport is an aspirational thing and way below on the list of priorities. Only when corporates think that benefits of sports are linked to public health, will they spend. The state of Victoria in Australia for example, says that for every dollar they spend on sport, they save three dollars on the health budget. No Indian state has done any such study, hence it’s tough for us to convince funders. But I am hopeful that things will change.
The cost factor always been a hindrance in shooting. Do you think the government is doing enough to relax import duties on arms and ammunition for shooters?
Things have changed drastically over the last few years. It used to take from six months to a year earlier to get the latest equipment. And by the time the equipment arrived, the world was already using newer technology. Today, there is no import duty on arms and ammunition for shooters who meet the eligibility criteria. So, I believe this relaxation of rules and norms, with timely inputs from the sport's governing body, the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) have helped make shooting very accessible now.
On the personal front, how has your training being progressing in the build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?
I have started training. Right now, there are a few things that I am working on. There are a few competitions lined up over the next few months or so. My participation at the Tokyo Games will depend on the kind of results I am able to produce at these events.
What are your expectations in terms of medals from the Indian shooting contingent at the Tokyo Olympics?
The Indian team has some fabulous talents. They are all capable of winning medals on their day. With a slice of luck, I am hoping that we can better the London 2012 tally (six medals overall off which two were in shooting).
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