Commonwealth Crisis

Birmingham will not hold shooting events when it hosts the 2022 Commonwealth Games, prompting outcry from shooting’s governing bodies. The city’s bid to bring the Commonwealth Games back to the UK for the third time in 20 years (replacing Durban, which was stripped of the Games after failing to meet financial commitments) was announced as successful on 21 December. Though hailed as a British success, this is a severe blow to British shooting, whose athletes have consistently won medals at recent Commonwealths.

These athletes face at least eight years without a chance to add to their medal tallies after the Gold Coast Games close this April – as well as the possibility of their funding being reduced if non-inclusion becomes the norm. This may prompt a period of introspection for shooting sports, who must question whether the older demographic of their participants will now lead to them being passed over more frequently for inclusion in other multi-sport events.

Shooting v basketball

Birmingham had originally planned to bid for the 2026 Commonwealths, but brought its bid forward to 2022 after Durban lost its rights to host the Games in March 2017.

There was early interest from other cities, including Kuala Lumpur, which did intend to include shooting, but ultimately only Birmingham submitted a serious bid, even after the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) extended the period for applications when the city’s initial bid was deemed non-compliant.

Birmingham’s bid team said it would use existing venues to keep costs down, though it will build a new aquatic centre in Sandwell to host the swimming events. But it declined to offer Bisley, the 2002 Commonwealth shooting venue with world-class facilities already in place for every discipline, the chance to put on the shooting events.

Bisley was disadvantaged by a desire to keep the 2022 events within the Birmingham area – though the track cycling events will take place in a velodrome in London, at least as far from central Birmingham as Bisley is.

Ian Ward, the council leader who headed Birmingham’s Commonwealth bid, said shooting’s older demographic had counted against it. “We’ve got a young city – 46 per cent under the age of 30,” he said. “We opted for 3×3 basketball because of its appeal to young people, rather than shooting.

“[Shooting has] now become one of the optional sports rather than mandatory. And there is now a cap on the number of athletes you can have in a Games to keep costs down. You have to make some carefully judged decisions on which sports to include.

“I can understand why people in [shooting] would be disappointed. I’m sure they would dearly love to be a part of the Games. But we’ve had to take a carefully judged decision on what sports to include.

“Part of that decision was that we didn’t have a [shooting] venue in or close to Birmingham. The young dynamic of 3×3 basketball was a better fit than hosting shooting outside the city.”

Winning tradition

Shooting is an optional event at the Commonwealth Games, but has featured in every Games since 1974. It has been an exceedingly successful sport for the home nations in recent years. England was second in the shooting medal table at Glasgow 2014, with Charlotte Kerwood, David Luckman (two), Parag Patel and Daniel Rivers winning golds.

Meanwhile, Jen McIntosh is Scotland’s most successful female Commonwealth competitor in any sport, having won five medals (and aiming to add more at Gold Coast this year). Pistol shooter Mick Gault, with 18 medals across six Games, is the joint most decorated Commonwealth athlete of all time.

It is not just British athletes who benefit from the shooting events. They are popular among many of the smaller nations in the Commonwealth, who enter only a handful of events and would sorely miss shooting were it not to take place. In 2014, shooting was one of only three sports the Falkland Islands and Saint Helena participated in, and four the Maldives, Niue and Norfolk Island entered athletes for.

India’s sporting bodies are especially upset at the omission of shooting – it is the country’s biggest source of Commonwealth success, with 118 of its 438 all-time medals coming from the sport.

Shocked reaction

Governing bodies, both domestic and international, have spoken out against the decision and promised to lobby to have it overturned.

“Naturally, we are very disappointed in the fact that shooting is not included in the sports programme for Birmingham 2022,” said the ISSF secretary general, Franz Schreiber. “The ISSF is already in contact with the CGF with a view to discussing the future of our sport in the Games, which will include exploring possibilities for inclusion in 2022.”

British Shooting described itself as “delighted” that the Commonwealth Games would come to England, but said it was “deeply disappointed” that shooting would miss out. “We are disappointed that the Birmingham team did not seek to discuss options with British Shooting or the home country associations with a view to finding a creative, innovative and supportive solution,” it said. “We remain open to a dialogue with Birmingham and the CGF, and with the support of the ISSF and all the shooting sport family across the Commonwealth, we would urge the organisers to find a way.”

The NRA’s chief executive, Andrew Mercer, said it was “wholly illogical” not to let Bisley host the shooting events. The association continues to lobby to have the decision overturned.

However, in an NRA general council meeting in September 2017, before the final decision was made, Mr Mercer conceded that the lobbying of small countries would not be as beneficial as in previous years, as the 2022 bid would be approved by the Commonwealth Games Executive – and not the entire federation – owing to it being an emergency process.

He added that if the federation got used to Games without shooting, then funding for target shooting would “come under significant pressure”.

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