Bindra panel recommendations undemocratic and non-transparent, says Rajmond Debevec

Slovenia's Rajmond Debevec celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the 50m Rifle Prone men's final at the 2012 London Olympics. MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages

Three-time Olympic medallist Rajmond Debevec has criticized the ISSF and its athletes committee headed by Abhinav Bindra, for scrapping three existing events from the 2020 Olympics, arguing that the process was non-transparent, and that gender equality could have been achieved using a more democratic decision-making process.

In line with the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) directive on gender equality, the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) had last month proposed scrapping the double trap, men's rifle prone and 50m pistol shooting events from the 2020 Olympics to make room for new events that will see more women participation at the Tokyo Games. The recommendations were made by the athletes committee, led by Abhinav Bindra.

"I, as a shooter, feel offended because the ISSF led this procedure and accepted the recommendations in a nontransparent manner. I feel there was a lack of democracy.

"The statutory rules of the ISSF demands that such a crucial change be adopted in the general assembly, which was not the case here," Debevec, a Sydney Olympics gold medallist, and a five-time World Championship medallist, told PTI.

"It should be voted and adopted in the general assembly, but this decision was kept secret, and the whole procedure was only brought within a small number of senior ISSF officials. That is my biggest concern. I am all for gender equality in Olympics but this could be achieved in a different way, in a way that nobody gets hurt.

"These are very, very respected events which had been part of Olympics programs since the inception of modern Olympics. I would accept any decision brought in a democratic, transparent manner," he added.

The 53-year-old Slovenian is in New Delhi for the ongoing ISSF World Cup and when the rifle prone event was in progress at the Dr Karni Singh Range, Debevec led calls for the prone event to be kept in the Olympics.

"Actually, the athletes committee also voted and I was very disappointed because the members of athletes committee are supposed to represent the whole shooting community. And they should not vote to axe, for example, double trap from Olympic program because double trap has no member in athletes committee.

"Obviously this was against the principle that they represent, and it is disappointing. This is discrimination to those shooters who have no representative in this committee.

"I also see conflict of interest because some of the shooters benefited from this decision. Trap shooters now have an additional event to shoot in the Olympics at the expense of double trap," he said.

In his statement announcing the recommendations, Bindra had been quoted as saying, "The guiding principle was to look at (the) situation in a holistic manner which would be beneficial in (the) long term for the shooting sport in order for us to maintain our presence in the Olympic movement."

Debevec was not on the same page, though.

"Abhinav Bindra, with all due respect to his fantastic shooting career, his accomplishments, did not do the right thing. I had the opportunity to shoot together with him in competitions, he was really a champion and, unfortunately, he quit shooting after the Rio Games. But I think his responsibility as chairman of athletes committee is really big and he didn't do the right job," he said.

"He is very much pro changes and I disagree with him on this. The athletes committee is made up of shooters, these representatives are elected and they do not necessarily represent the opinion of the entire shooting community.

"I have full respect for his shooting career. I know he is the only Indian individual Olympic gold medallist. But in this case, I disagree with him." Debevec said.

Bindra responded to Debevec's statement through a series of tweets defending the committee's recommendations.

Italy's Marco Innocenti, double trap silver medallist at the Rio Olympics, agrees with Debevec.

"This is unfair because there wasn't any double trap shooter in the athletics committee. In Italy we have been protesting this decision ever since we heard last year that double trap was likely to be removed from the Olympics. I don't understand how Abhinav Bindra could support this decision when India has been so successful in double trap. Even today an Indian has won a World Cup silver (Referring to Jitu Rai's silver in the ongoing ISSF WC in Delhi). Unlike in pistol or rifle you can't change between shotgun events. It takes many years to develop an expertise in shotgun shooting. Perhaps the younger players could adapt to the change because they are still young. But I have been shooting double trap for more than twenty years. It's not something I can do. I have a business back home, I will probably retire after this year," Innocenti said.

Mirco Cenci, a former double trap Olympian and Italian national team coach, stresses the same point.

"The athletes commission should have considered the players' interests before making the changes. Most shooters pick up either double trap or trap or shotgun only once they get comfortable with it. Most of them will probably quit shooting competitively altogether. The equipment is different. You can't shoot trap with a double trap gun. We have nearly three hundred clubs for double trap shooting. Most of them will have to close down. The players who have got jobs because of their skill in the double trap will lose it," Cenci says.

The recommendations of the Bindra-led committee have been approved by the ISSF, and are to be ratified by the IOC.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Selvaraj