It is a common refrain every year that we do not win enough medals at international events like Olympics. The events are usually followed by a huge hue and cry across the nation, and social media posts are plump with demands seeking the upliftment of sports in India.
Government and authorities swing into action and set up committees to chalk out a strategy for future sporting events with promises of gold (medal) and glory.
However, it all dies down with time. The people forget and so do the authorities. Perhaps, it is this indifference that results in ordeals such as what the national shooting team underwent at the IGI airport in Delhi on Tuesday.
The incident highlights that despite our poor performances in Olympics, and the promises to change the fortune of sports and athletes, the ground reality remains grim.
Over 15 sleep deprived and hungry international shooters were stuck at the airport for more than 13 hours due to babudom and red-tapeism. Among them were Olympian Gurpreet Singh and Kynan Chenai.
All of them landed around 4 am in the morning in the national capital after participating in the Plzen Shooting Grand Prix (in the Czech Republic) and shotgun World Cup in Cyprus, respectively, but stuck inside the airport till late afternoon.
The humiliation of the sportsmen did not end here. Media reports suggest that when the shooters complained that they were sleep-deprived and hungry, one of the officials asked them to cooperate with the processes as “one would not die after skipping a meal”.
The reason why they were left stranded at the airport was because the authorities refused to clear the weapons they were carrying. They said they were “extra careful” after a few athletes were caught ferrying unauthorized guns.
Above all, the person supposed to take a final call – the Customs Commissioner -- on the matter, did not turn up till late afternoon. He was supposed to be in office at 10 am.
Interestingly, this was despite the fact that the shooters had all requisite permissions to carry the guns to the event when they took off from India. All the documents were duly signed and stamped by the same custom department. However, the same officials developed a trust deficit with their own people and processes.
"When we went to Plzen, the same department had issued us letters with their stamp and serial numbers of our guns. We have the same guns and the letters. We don't have even a screw extra, but they don't trust their own letters," a shooter told Times of India on condition of anonymity.
In their defence, the Customs department told reporters that none of the athletes was held and that only their weapons were not cleared.
“Extra caution was being taken after a few national shooters were recently arrested for smuggling illegal pistols” media reports quoted officials as saying.
A few shooters also missed their connecting flights to different cities due to the delay.
Reacting to the report, ace shooter and Beijing Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra reprimanded the National Rifle Association of India for not doing enough for the shooters.
Bindra tweeted, "Saddened to hear that the national shooting team is detained at IGI airport with the customs refusing to clear their guns."
"They are our country's ambassadors and should not be treated like this. Would this ever happen to our cricket team?"
"Lack of support ... from the national federation is pathetic. The manager of the shotgun team left this morning leaving the athletes to fend for themselves."
In his defence, NRAI secretary Rajiv Bhatia told TOI, "There are so many limitations when it is about customs. No one can enter the airport from outside, so the best we could do is to communicate with the customs officials. We were constantly in touch with the additional commissioner.”