Veronika Major, who competes in both pistol and Running Target competition, was shooting from Hungary in her national kit, India’s Manu Bhaker was shooting with her pistol in her hometown of Jhajjar in Haryana while Martin Strempfl topped the rifle charts shooting from Austria. France’s Etienne Germond was at home and had just 7 meters to shoot from and therefore used SCATT to shoot, a training software that calibrates shots in such a way that they show results according to the 10 meter distance. India’s Divyansh Singh Panwar, the world No 1 in 10m air rifle, was shooting in a makeshift range that spanned two rooms and went into a closet.

All these shooters from around the world – with pistol or rifle in hand – were in different time zones, employed different methods, but had one thing in common: a sense of competition during a near-global lockdown and playing a real-time match against international opponents in the first-of-its-kind online shooting event on Wednesday.

The brainchild of former India shooter Shimon Sharif, this innovative International Online Shooting Championship saw a total of 50 shooters from seven different countries participate in a virtual competition from home, using temporary ranges. All they needed was an electronic target setup and a mobile phone with internet connection to shoot a match against international opponents, with the shooting calendar currently empty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The lockdown triggered the idea. With the ISSF World Cups called off, there was no shooting action happening. I saw that there were various corporate meetings happening around on apps like Zoom and then I saw the memes on social media about these apps and meetings. So I got this idea connecting shooters from all over the country and world on a single day and have an international level competition,” Sharif told after the competition.

He approached various Indian and international shooters through different means such as Facebook Messenger and a lot of them showed interest. The word spread and a lot of shooters wanted to participate, but only those with an electronic target set up at home could take part. Sharif had to turn away a lot of requests as well because he wanted the first edition to have the biggest names. Even the jury was made up of ISSF certified members who were monitoring the proceedings carefully and ensuring everyone followed the guidelines.

It’s fair to say that the first attempt was an unqualified success. For the course of a qualification match – 60 shots – the event conducted through the Zoom app and streamed live on Facebook saw a good contest between big names and a sizeable viewership.

“I have been associated with the sport for over 25 years and have never seen anything like this. Shooting is probably the only Olympic sport which can be played online.

“I think it was a great success. And barring one or two people who lost their internet connection, it went off smoothly and the results were transparent. Some very nice scores also were registered, crossing 630,” Sharif, who runs the website, added.

In the 10m air rifle event, Strempfl finished at the top with 632.5 while Meghna Sajjanar was second with 630.5 and Germond was placed third with 629.4. India’s world No 1 Divyansh Singh Panwar secured a fourth-place finish with 627.8. In the 10m air pistol competition, Olympian Amanpreet Singh shot 576 to finish at the top with Ashish Dabbas at second place with 575 and Bhaker third with a score of 572.

Feel of a top event

The key was the diverse participation, from 16-year-old Emilia Faulkner to 39-year-old Sanjeev Rajput, and the involvement of prominent names from the fraternity.

To add to the overall value of the event, Sharif did commentary with Hungarian great Peter Sidi and India Olympian Joydeep Karmakar while several prominent coaches joined in through video chats. A pleasant surprise for many Indian shooting followers would have been the appearance of former Indian rife coach Laszlo Szucsak and pistol coach Csaba Gyorik who showed up to watch their wards and chat about the sport. Ronak Pandit and Heena Sidhu were among those involved as well, though the latter didn’t shoot.

“They [international coaches] came on their own as the shooters they are coaching were participating. We were in touch... obviously they know me personally and probably they heard that it’s me organizing. Both Laszlo and Csaba have also communicated to me that a lot of foreign shooters are keen to take part. And the ones who took part this time were really happy,” Sharif said.

The shooters all expressed their delight at having a competition in this unique format. Panwar spoke about how he was under pressure even though he was shooting from home while Bhaker was disappointed with her score.

For coach Karmakar, this competition was “not about scores but a sense of belonging to the community” while Gyorik added, “real sportspersons take every opportunity to compete, show their knowledge and step up despite the technical difficulties.”

“At a time when there are no competitions, people would love to be part of this because they don’t have to travel anywhere and shoot with a shooter who is miles apart. “There’s a national level shooter who is getting an opportunity to shoot with a world champion,” Sharif explained.

This was just the first in what is planned as a series and next step is to include a 24-shot final to the virtual competition as well, after the 60-shot qualification. Sharif is also in talks with the ISSF and NRAI to take the concept further. Given the initial success of the event in the shooting fraternity, there is sure to be an even bigger interest and participation in the next edition.