Commonwealth of Opportunities

WITH THE COMMONWEAlTH GAMES KICKING OFF as Gun Trade News goes to print, what chance does shooting have of a glorious ‘summer of sport’, as we had in 2012? Wait… not summer. Spring of sport? Well, it’s really autumn in Gold Coast isn’t it… Never mind. What we want is a haul of medals from Team GB to overshadow the threat of shooting never taking place in the Commonwealth Games again.

Firstly, a technical point: ‘Team GB’ actually has no chance of winning any Commonwealth medals, because it doesn’t enter any athletes. Instead, participants represent their home principality – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland. That might give the games a slightly less all- encompassing, more parochial feel, but let’s not forget it results in more concentrated support from the likes of Scotland, for whom shooting is one of the most fruitful Commonwealth sports (and Jen McIntosh is, of course, the most decorated female Scottish Commonwealth competitor of all time).

LARNACA – APRIL 29: 4th placed Steven SCOTT of Great Britain competes in the Double Trap Men Finals at the Larnaca Olympic Shooting Range during Day 4 of the ISSF World Cup Shotgun on April 29, 2015 in Larnaca, Cyprus. (Photo by Nicolo Zangirolami)

Plus, each one of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom has a genuine chance of winning a shooting medal. The aforementioned Jen McIntosh and her sister Seonaid for Scotland; Ben Llewellin for Wales; David Calvert in fullbore for Northern Ireland; and for England there’s everyone from Amber Hill to Ken Parr.

Don’t get me wrong – these Commonwealth events could be the toughest we’ve seen in a generation. Firstly, being held in the southern hemisphere, they are several months earlier in the year than they would otherwise be – which means a shortened training schedule for every athlete, not to mention a massive change in climate and time zones to get used to. Secondly, everyone reported back from the test event last year that the ranges are open and incredibly windy. And with the added pressure of this being the last time the shooting events are contested in (at least) eight years, can the Brits cope with the pressure?

In fact, they are refreshingly relaxed. “I’m excited,” says Ken Parr, already a multiple Commonwealth medallist. “These multi-sport events are very rare on the calendar – so it’s always nice to get into it and feel like part of a team. That’s definitely the

way you feel when you’re travelling out together, being in the same village, operating under a process led by the wider management, not just a shooting- specific one.” Dean Bale, looking forward to his first Commonwealth Games, is looking forward to joining up with the rest of the team. “There’s always a bit of community spirit – the home countries are in it together. But there’s still a rivalry – I want to beat them and I’m sure they want beat me!”

Steve Scott won gold at the last two Commonwealth Games and will bid to make it three in a row in 2018. “The aim will definitely be to try and win another gold medal, but I know it will be tough as the level of competition increases at every Games,” he said. “I have some great memories from the shoot-off against Matthew French in Glasgow and if I come away from the Gold Coast with similar memories then I’m sure it’s going to be a brilliant Games.”

I am prone to cynicism but genuinely think that the British athletes will return from Australia with at least a few medals. And it might not be the ones you think either (watch out for Katie Gleeson in women’s small-bore – she’s made huge strides in the last few years and is in with a really good shout). But now, back to cynicism – and to quote the king of cynicism, Morrissey, ‘What difference does it make?’ The dream situation is that policy- makers see how successful the home nations are at shooting, realise we really should give ourselves another chance at success in 2022, and reverse the decision to drop shooting from the Birmingham Games.

But it’s not going to happen even if we win every medal on offer. Policy makers take a longer view – they know somebody has to win every medal, and as long as there are events, there will be medal winners. Despite what they may say in official post- event press releases, they won’t be impressed by a medal haul and it won’t prove to them that shooting deserves to stay.

What we need to hope for instead is a surge in new interest. When Faulds won Olympic gold in 2000, and again in 2012 when the newly-out-of-retirement Peter Wilson took top honours in london, there was a palpable increase in engagement with shooting, with people – particularly in the regions Faulds and Wilson are from – who’d never even thought about shooting before deciding to have a go. That’s why the separate-nations nature of the Commonwealths works in our favour – it emphasises that people from, say, Edinburgh or Bath should really care if Seonaid McIntosh or Kristian Callaghan win a medal. And that translates to a grassroots boost. Birmingham organisers admitted that shooting’s perceived lack of support among younger demographics tipped the scales against it – let’s use Commonwealth 2018 to counteract that. CF

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