Shooting down some events!

The Executive Committee of the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) has decided to recommend the dropping of the 50-metre free pistol, 50-metre rifle prone and double trap from its Olympic programme.

Abhinav Bindra is quite candid about the new developments.   -  PTI

When Abhinav Bindra won the Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008, he floored the world audience by saying that his profession was “driving holes into a black paper.”

To lock oneself up with such passion in pursuit of perfection may not appeal to the masses any more, as people look for life in sport as much as they struggle to keep sports as a part of life in a fast-changing world where entertainment is available at the call of a button.

Ironically, almost a decade down the road, it is Abhinav who has been nominated to drive the change in the world of shooting as the Chairman of the athletes commission of the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF). It is another matter that he is being mistaken as a villain of “undesirable change.”

The Agenda 2020 of the IOC, which aims at “gender equality,” that is equal opportunity for women athletes to win medals, has compelled some quarters to seek drastic changes.

As the ISSF claims, the views of all the stakeholders were sought and a lot of analysis done backed by data, before the Federation’s Executive Committee decided to recommend the dropping of the 50-metre free pistol, 50-metre rifle prone and double trap from its Olympic programme.

Instead, mixed doubles events have been brought in, in the air pistol, air rifle and trap categories. These are prime events and have tremendous popularity.

The ISSF was happy to achieve equality without disturbing its original pattern of having five rifle, five pistol and five shotgun events for 15 gold medals in the Olympics. It also achieved the equality of nine gold medals each for men and women.

After a long process that started in 2015 and after the consideration of various alternatives and proposals, the ISSF ad hoc committee, headed by its secretary-general Franz Schreiber and with one of the world’s top shooters Wang Yifu in the panel as one of its vice-presidents, and having representatives from the shooters and coaches and other experts, took the decision to change.

However, the conduct of the first World Cup of the new season in Delhi, with 50 countries sending about 500 shooters for the competition, meant that the subject was debated further in the media, after it was closed by the ISSF with its final recommendation to the IOC before the February 28 deadline.

A former World and Olympic champion, the 53-year-old Rajmond Debevec of Slovenia who has won 80 World Cup medals including 27 gold, was hurt that such a big change was not put up for voting in the General Assembly of the ISSF. He had a valid argument that some of these events had existed since the first modern Olympics in 1896.

“Ordinarily, general regulations can only be changed by the ISSF General Assembly, but this is not applicable in this case, because the Olympic Games and the Olympic sports programme are governed by the IOC and the Olympic Charter, not by the ISSF Constitution and General Regulations. Neither the ISSF General Assembly nor any other ISSF body has the authority to decide the shooting events in the Olympic Games,” clarified the ISSF, in its detailed report on the subject.

Heena Sidhu and Jitu Rai display their medals after winning the newly introduced mixed team 10m Air Pistol event of the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi recently.   -  PTI


Another prominent rifle shooter, former World champion and world record holder Peter Sidi of Hungary, said that doing away with the 50-metre rifle prone and 50-metre pistol events was like committing suicide. He pointed out that the father of modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, was a free pistol shooter.

Indeed the first modern Olympics in 1896 did have the 30-metre free pistol and the 200-metre rifle events.

Debevec said that the committee had no representatives from double trap, and thus there was no voice for its support before the decision was taken by the ISSF Executive.

All these concerns were genuine, but by the time they came, the goose had been cooked.

Quite interestingly, the mixed events were introduced in the World Cup in Delhi. Indian shooting may have drawn a blank at the Rio Olympics, but there is no doubt about the depth and strength of the Indian shooters.

Jitu Rai and Heena Sidhu, two of the best pistol shooters, were able to present the mixed air pistol event in good light by winning the gold in the test event. The event was felt to be long and a little out of sync as the shooters took turns to shoot in the knock-out stage, but the local fans enjoyed it thoroughly.

“The 10-metre air rifle and the 50-metre 3-position events were judged to be preferable to prone,” the ISSF clarified about the choice in rifle.

“Rapid fire is dynamic and has one of shooting’s best finals, while the 50m pistol athletes can still apply their skills in 10m air pistol. In shotgun, double trap (men) was selected for replacement because it is the lowest participation men’s shotgun event,” the ISSF argued.

The women’s double trap had been eliminated as an Olympic event earlier.

The grouse of some of the practitioners of the 50-metre rifle and pistol events is that the air pistol and air rifle shooters get a second chance to win an Olympic medal at their expense.

The ISSF was clear that in trying to focus on the emotional attachments to certain events, the shooting fraternity should not miss the big picture and thus ignore the risk of being kicked out of the Olympics. Another old and popular sport like wrestling had to go through anxious moments before it retained its place in the Olympic programme.

Maybe, the shooters were voicing their opinion with the hope that the IOC, the ultimate authority and the owner of the Olympics, would consider certain aspects before deciding on the events.

The ISSF had taken into consideration the IOC event-based analysis, including data from the Rio Olympics, which included “worldwide television viewer numbers, internet user statistics, social media contacts, spectator responses and public opinions for all Olympic events including the 15 shooting events.”

The IOC Executive Board will decide on the 2020 Olympics shooting programme in a few months.

Apart from changing the list of Olympic events, the ISSF has also changed some of the formats to make them more popular.

The semifinal stage in the shotgun and some of the pistol events were replaced with the more popular “progressive elimination” process, as was practised in rapid fire pistol in the London Olympics.

In fact, the earlier big change, of the qualification scores not being added to the final scores to decide the winners, to make it simple for the spectators, had met with a massive resistance from the shooting fraternity. Since then, the best shooters have continued to excel, adapting to the change.

In a bid to give a better chance to the best to strike medals, the 20-shot finals in the rifle and pistol events have been extended to 24 shots. The women’s 25-metre sports pistol will follow the same pattern as the men’s 25-metre rapid fire pistol.

Jitu Rai thrived on the change to win the air pistol bronze and the free pistol gold from the bottom of the chart in the first World Cup of the season.

The events that are being dropped from the Olympics will continue to be a part of the World Championship, Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. Thus, it is not a big loss for the shooters.

In shotgun, the double trap will have the longest final spread over 80 shots or 40 doubles. The skeet will have 60 shots and the trap 50 shots in the finals. There is no doubt that double trap is visually very appealing and quite dynamic, but it, arguably, does not have the numbers to back its case.

It may be recalled that Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, now an Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, had rekindled the Olympic hunger in the country by winning the silver in double trap in the 2004 Athens Olympics. In the London Olympics, 2012, Joydeep Karmakar had placed fourth in the 50-metre rifle prone event.

Bindra was candid that he was not representing the “Indian interest” in the Athletes Commission of the ISSF, but was focussing on the continued existence of shooting in the Olympics.

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