With the international shooting calendar on halt for more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, India’s top pistol and rifle shooters will be back in action at the ISSF World Cup which begins at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting range in Delhi from Friday.

In the first multi-nation Olympic sport event of this scale amid the pandemic, India is fielding a strong 57-member squad, including the 15 quota holders for the Tokyo Olympics. While it will be a first competitive outing for the pistol and rifle shooters, the skeet and trap shooters had participated in the Shotgun World Cup in Cairo, Egypt, last month.

The World Cup at home will be an important testing ground before the Olympics, but the tournament assumes added significance for pistol shooter Anish Bhanwala.

A good performance from the 18-year-old would help him secure an Olympic quota in men’s 25m rapid fire pistol and increase India’s already biggest-ever tally to 16.

While most quota places have been distributed and India has already bagged a record 15 berths, a final spot in each Olympic event is still to be decided on the basis of world rankings and this is the final event before Tokyo for rifle and pistol shooters.

Bhanwala’s quota will depend on his high world ranking and the qualifications of others ranked above him. He is currently ranked 12th in the world. The ISSF could allot individual quota to the athlete who accumulates more ranking points by the May 31 deadline.

“We wish everyone all the very best and in particular, our men’s rapid fire pistol squad, where we have the opportunity to deliver the 16th Olympic quota to the country,” National Rifle Association of India president Raninder Singh said ahead of the event.

“All Covid protocols and safety-measures have been put in place and we are all looking forward to some exciting matches, with several world class and legendary shooters lining up against our Indian stars. It has been a very difficult time for our athletes, given there were almost no competitions to speak of for almost a year, but we believe they are professionals and the best in the world, so will comeback strong. We wish everyone all the very best and in particular, our men’s rapid fire pistol squad, who have the opportunity to deliver the 16thOlympic quota to the country,” he added.

On the first competition day on Friday, India’s prolific 10m air rifle shooters will be in action.

Divyansh Singh Panwar, Arjun Babuta and Deepak Kumar in the men’s 10m air rifle qualification. Pankaj Kumar and Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar will shoot in MQS (Minimum Qualification Score).

That will be followed by a world class lineup featuring Elavenil Valarivan, Anjum Moudgil and Apurvi Chandela (the first two Tokyo Games quota winners from India) in the women’s 10m air rifle competition. Shriyanka Sadangi and Nisha Kanwar will be in the MQS.

The second competition day will see the likes of the sensational Manu Bhaker, Saurabh Chaudhary, Abhishek Verma and Yashaswini Singh Deswal in action in the 10m air pistol section.

The Delhi World Cup will be crucial for shooters from all countries to qualify for the Olympics based on rankings.

A total of 294 athletes will be seen in action in the tournament with as many as 53 countries confirming their entries, including Korea, Singapore, USA, United Kingdom, Iran, Ukraine, France, Hungary, Italy, Thailand and Turkey. However, shooting powerhouses China and Japan will be absent.

With the postponement of next month’s World Cup in Korea following withdrawals due to the 14-day mandatory hard quarantine for inbound travellers, the Tokyo-bound shooters don’t have a lot of tournaments to iron out their chinks before the Olympics.

Barring the tournament in Delhi, there is a combined World Cup scheduled in Baku, Azerbaijan, from June 21 to July 2 and a Shotgun World Cup in Lonato, Italy, from May 7 to 17.

With PTI Inputs