Confusion was the overwhelming sentiment after the opening ceremony of the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup in New Delhi on Thursday as it was announced that the no Olympic quota places will be distributed at the competition. The decision was later revoked by the International Olympic Committee later, but much of the evening was engulfed by chaos.
After taking the stage, ISSF President Vladimir Lissin said that he had both good news and bad – good that the event will be telecast live in over 70 countries, a rarity for the sport of shooting but the bad could have far-reaching consequence.
After Pakistan shooters were denied visas by the Indian High Commission in the wake of the Pulwama attacks, they had written to ISSF asking for Olympic quotas to be withdrawn in the 25m rapid fire pistol, the event in which the two shooters were supposed to participate in.
“Bad news is that Pakistan athletes could not get visa to come to this event, this is not the fault of the organizing committee or ISSF. But we should follow IOC [International Olympic Committee] charter athletes are discriminated against. Due to this situation, the International Olympic Committee has informed us that this World Cup won’t be a competition for Olympic quotas to be distributed,” Lissin announced at the opening ceremony.
“The Olympic quota places will be distributed at the other World Cups. We have to follow the IOC as long as we are members of the Olympic family.” he added.
But soon after, National Rifle Association of India President Raninder Singh clarified to reporters that he was still in talks with the International Olympic Committee to try and overturn the decision. The IOC eventually took the decision (which came in around 2.30 am IST) to scrap the quotas in the only the event the Pakistan team. It helped bring focus back on sport.
But while the organisers and administrators were trying to sort the issue, the athletes themselves seemed to be unfazed. Shooting is a sport that depends a lot on the mental state of the athlete and such confusion could have derailed at least some of the Indian athletes.
The initial announcement would have been a big blow to the hopes of the 23-member Indian contingent who would have been looking to seal a few more spots for Tokyo 2020 at the range where the last national trials happened. The familiarity of the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range could prove decisive as they try to seal a few Olympic quota spots at the season-opening World Cup.
But the shooters and the coaches were simply nonplussed.
“I don’t think decision has changed any plan or affected my motivation because at the end of the day it is about representing our country and we do that either way. The World Cup is always a competition, with or without quota places,” Rahi Sarnobat, who won gold in 25m rapid fire pistol at the Asian Games, said
Sarnobat added: “We have won quota places in earlier Olympics as well, when the qualification events were not in this range. All I can say is that after this we will work harder and prepare better.”
For many international athletes, this seemed like a fair decision and there were not focussing on the quotas.
“For us, every competition is very important.” Sergei Kruglov, the Russian team leader told Scroll.in.
“There is always the next World Cup,” Rio Rifle 3 Position silver medallist Sergey Kamenskiy added.
The same thought was echoed by Andrei Rohau and Abdul-Aziz Kurdzi from Belarus.
India have already clinched two quota places, in women’s 10m air rifle at the World championship in Changwon and will now look for to make the most of the 14 on offer.
A different perspective
Ronak Pandit, the High Performance Director of the Indian team and coach of the pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, offered a different perspective to the issue.
“The home range works in both ways – advantage because of familiarity but also expectations are huge and we have seen the biggest names across sports falter when they were ‘expected’ to deliver. At the firing line any player is only focused on executing his process and plan, that’s what we train them for and that’s the only way they can ever hope to do well. If quota or medal is on the mind then they have already lost the race. So ideally quota or no quota, the shooters job is to go out there and perform. If no quota then it will be a good test of everyone to see where they stand and make amends for future competitions,” Ronak Pandit told Scroll.in before the IOC decision came through.
He spoke about the similar incident during the last Olympic cycle as well.
“Let’s not forget we had a similar situation in 2015 Asian Championships in Kuwait where we got to know about loss of quota status after landing there. Heena won a gold there and a gold again in Asia Olympic Qualifiers and India fielded their largest ever shooting contingent for Rio Olympics... So momentary dejection and loss of motivation is natural but our shooters are well trained to overcome such hiccups and give their best. Our team is in fantastic form and we are all looking forward to see the fruits of our hard work - which is ‘performance’ of our shooters and not medals or quotas,” he explained.
Given how shooting a sport is a sport where individual mental grit comes to the fore, this obstacle may have been a small blip for the Indians shooters, who have enjoyed a stunning run in the last year with medals at every competition.
Mohamed Ismail Abdellah Hassan, the current coach of Saudi Arabia, chose to look at the issue philosophically.
“This happened before with Kuwait as well, so it happens. If you want to [host] a World Cup, everyone must be allowed to go to the competition. But not all countries are the same, this happens sometimes. But this is politics and I think it is important politics must be kept outside sports,” he said.