Diversity in field sports matters

GTN editor Steve Faragher looks at the state of diversity in the gun trade and asks how we can improve in the wake of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Isaac Sibanda believes that hunting is something traditional, passed down through generations

My first real experience of the gun trade was attending the Great British Shooting Show in Birmingham in February this year. I didn’t know what to expect, but was really impressed by the large numbers of people, the variety of intriguing stalls, and the huge volume of kit for demonstration and sale. I’ve been to many different trade shows in many different countries, and the BSS held up well compared to pretty much all of them. 

But there was one thing that did strike me as I walked through the gates. I couldn’t see anyone at the show who wasn’t white. There were quite a few women, some people with disabilities, but no one who was black.

I was uncomfortably reminded of Peter Snow’s controversial description of a UKIP rally from August 2019 where he said he had “never seen so many white people in one place.” 

It was a fleeting impression and I was wrong of course, there were black and minority-ethnic people at the show, but they were in a distinct minority, a far greater minority I would argue than you would find in almost any other walk of life—or indeed trade show—in the UK. 

Shooters flocked to the NEC for the British Shooting Show in February  

Later, as I was walking around the show I saw a turban from a distance, with a smiling asian face underneath it, walking along chatting to colleagues and potential customers.

That face belonged to Viraj Singh, from the Jodhour Company I later discovered.

Indian Style

The Jodhpur Company is essentially a tailor’s, and they take beautiful and slightly unusual garments from India such as the turban and the jodhpur, and blend them with characteristically British hunting clothes such as tweeds to create an amazing and inspiring blend of the two. I’ve interviewed Viraj since, and asked him why he thinks there aren’t so many black and minority-ethnic people in shooting.

“I think it’s down to confidence,” he says. “Take my father, for example. He comes from a long line of Indian hunters and farmers, hunting is in our blood, and when he lived in India, hunting, shooting and fishing were big passions of his. But when he arrived in Britain in the 1970s he stopped doing all of that.

“In fact my brother and I were sent all the way back to India as kids to learn to shoot from our uncles. It wasn’t until we were grown up that I said to my brother ‘this is mad, there’s a clay shooting range just down the road, let’s join. I think my father was worried about how he would be received.”’ 

Viraj Singh blends the styles of old India with modern tailoring

“These days, I often take Asian businessmen shooting as part of an organised day out, and they’re always full of questions beforehand about how they’ll be treated… will it be okay? will they be nice to us?”

And so how are they treated—has Viraj ever felt uncomfortable while shooting?

There is an uncharacteristically long pause. “No, I can honestly say I haven’t, but sometimes I have felt almost as if people are trying too hard. But everyone I meet shooting is really great and very welcoming, even back when we joined our clay shooting range. Now there are a few more Asian faces around, particularly at the range, but we’re still a tiny minority.” 

The range Viraj refers to is the A1 shooting ground in Barnet, now also home to World Cup and Asian Gold Medalist Zoravar Sandhu of India, World Champion, World Cup Medallist and two-time Commonwealth Games Champion Aaron Yeading from GB and Olympian and South East Asian Gold Medalist Bernard Yeoh from Malaysia.

Closer to home

While it’s very positive to hear about the open welcome BME people receive, not everyone has had a universally positive experience. Chetna Shukla is a woman of Indian heritage who works for this magazine and others in our fieldsport’s division.

She talks extensively to members of the gun trade and shooters, and while she agrees that for the most part her welcome is genuine, she has found the odd occasion where someone has said something that she has noticed.

“I’ve had a couple of comments about my heritage,” she told me, “but that’s maybe because it’s just something new to the people I’m talking to. On the whole though I’ve not been made to feel uncomfortable.”

Isaac Sibanda is a vicar, who lives and works in Norfolk. Like Viraj, he has a hunting background, this time from Zimbabwe which he left as a child with his family. And also like Viraj, he has nothing but good things to say about his shooting experiences.

“I shoot clay, and everybody at the range I go to is really kind, and very welcoming. And I can tell that their warmth is genuine. When I went on my first game shoot I was very nervous. I had invested in all the tweeds, and I went along hoping everything would be fine.

“The gentleman who looked after me, and reloaded my gun, couldn’t have been kinder, and we chatted a lot that day. When I shot my first pheasant he took the photograph for me.”

Traditional ways

There’s a common theme developing and Isaac puts his finger on it. “I come from a long line of hunters, and my father taught me to shoot. In that way I am the same as everyone else on that shoot—the love of hunting tends to be about tradition, of something passed down from generation to generation, so I have a lot in common with everyone there.”

Of course, diversity is about more than skin colour—gender, disabilities and sexualty can also be grounds for discrimination.

To get another perspective, I talked to Georgina ‘Gorgs’ Geikie who after a medal-winning career with an air pistol has moved into a development role with British Shooting, the national governing body for Olympic and Paralympic shooting.

“Diversity across all sports is becoming more important,” she tells me, “and it’s certainly something we’re trying to promote across British Shooting. Our sport is a sport that everyone can enjoy. Historically it has been home to a male-dominated and older community. But that is changing.

“We’re directed by the ISSF (International Shooting Sport Federation, the governing body of Olympic, Paralympic and World Championship shooting) who have recently, along with all the other federations, introduced an equality of medal opportunities for men and women across all sports, meaning that women now have the same number of medals to shoot for as men. And that’s trickling down all the way to the grass roots, with more opportunities for female shooters.”

What about on a personal level, how did Gorgs find shooting when she first took up the sport? 

“I got into shooting through the Pony Club Tetrathlon and Modern Pentathlon,” she tells us, “both of which were very welcoming and huge fun. As I pursued modern heptathlon I also got involved with my local shooting club who welcomed me with open arms and took me under their wing. And it was partly due to their massive encouragement that I succeeded in my sport.”

Dr Al Gabriel is actively trying to encourage diversity in fieldsports

Sport for the people

Now Gorgs is helping to pay that kindness back. “I’m involved with the engagement team to try to inspire people into the sport,’ she tells me. “The programmes that I run are open, and inclusive for everybody to get involved.

“We want to take shooting to the people rather than hoping that people will knock on our door.” Gorgs runs Target Sprint and the School’s Pistol Championships. “Both of those are inclusive; we’ve made sure they are open to young people and people with disabilities. Target Sprint welcomes anyone of any age or ability and is our ‘sport for all’.”

So, does Gorgs think that shooting is becoming more diverse?

“Definitely. I think there’s been a great positivity and a change for the better for shooting. Technology has opened the doors and made everything more possible—communicating with our target audience is much easier through Facebook and social media.

“I think shooting as a community—working alongside the NRA, NSRA and the CPSA—is definitely moving towards becoming more diverse. There is still a male and older predominance but it has moved a long way in the last few years and I think all minorities are becoming more represented in the sport.”

Deer stalker

Al Gabriel is a molecular biologist at Newcastle University, a keen deer stalker and an advocate of increased participation in fieldsports by black and minority-ethnic people.

He’s also standing for committee membership at BASC in their July elections on a diversity platform. Like Isaac before, Al also acknowledges that family history can be very important to whether or not you take up shooting. 

He himself has been hunting since he was four, making himself bows and arrows to hunt with when he was growing up in East Africa. He moved to the UK when he was 16 and took up shotgun shooting when he joined the Territorial Army while at university.

He also shot rifles, and for the last five years or so has become very keen on deerstalking. But he puts his love of shooting down to the fact that it is a tradition in his family. 

“I’ve had a very positive experience in shooting as an ethnic minority” he tells me. “Whenever we get to this diversity conversation, everyone gets very tense, but I think shooting can hold its head up high.”

Al doesn’t want to change shooting much then, he just wants to introduce new people to the sport. “About two years ago I had enough. I got in touch with BASC and—fair play to them—the whole executive listened to me. I wanted to propose that everyone who was from a minority background be encouraged to bring one friend along shooting. Just one, but hopefully that would plant a seed.”

Al’s proactive initiative is down to his frustration at the lack of BME participation in fieldsports. Something he thinks is perfectly understandable, but needs to change.

“The reason that shooting is not more diverse is a matter of history, you just have to look at the history of Britain—without anyone needing to apologise for the past.

“Most BME communities live in urban centres where fieldsports don’t exist. Clay shooting is bridging the barriers, because you do get clay shooting grounds in London and other major urban areas, so that can be a starting point.”

Culture moves

“But there is a major difference of culture between urban and rural areas. So how do you take someone from London or Birmingham and pull them out of that environment and take them up to Yorkshire to introduce them to the sport? None of their family do it, none of their neighbours do it, and you don’t find shotguns under a tree—they’re highly controlled items,” Al adds. 

“But the demography of the UK is changing, there are more BME people living in rural areas, there are mixed-race couples, and I think that is where we can encourage those low-hanging fruit to take up the sport. Then before long their cousin in London might see them enjoying fieldsports on social media and think that they fancy giving it a go too.”

Al argues that we need diversity in our sport to help us protect it. “A lot of the trouble we face as a sport is down to other people’s ignorance,” he points out.

“When there’s a conversation on Facebook about how bad shooting grouse on a grouse moor is, I want there to be someone who can chip in and say ‘Oh, actually I’ve been shooting on a grouse moor, and it’s not really what you think’.”

Even in this small exercise into listening and understanding the needs of under-represented groups in shooting it has become apparent to me that the recent Sport England report on diversity really hit the nail on the head when it identified the key barriers to participation by minorities as ‘language, awareness, safety, culture, confidence and perception of middle class stigma.’ 

If we want to increase the diversity in fieldsports and shooting as a whole (and I believe we do), we need to take on board each of those six barriers, and break them down as best we can, as soon as we can. 

Diversity statistics 

Gorgs Geikie taking part in the London 2012 Olympics
© Getty Images

Stats for diversity in fieldsports are hard to come by. According to Future Publishing’s own internal surveys, people who watch the Shooting Show are 92 per cent male, and just 8 per cent female.

While that’s the kind of statistic that I’m familiar with—I worked with the same sort of split when I used to work on gaming, or darts, or football magazines—it doesn’t necessarily make for good reading.

It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, the introduction of a new female presenter, Debra Carr, to the show will make, and whether, as Isaac Sibanda suggested to me, there is a new influx of young women joining the sport.

That opinion is certainly reflected by BASC, who report that they saw a growth in female membership of 12 per cent last year, and that female membership has been growing steadily for over five years.

This comes on the back of an investment of resources, they say, into “BASC Ladies Shooting”. Unsure as I am about the use of ‘lady’ in this context—some feminists think the term patronising and outdated when used in this way; a man in the same context would not necessarily be referred to as a ‘gentleman’—it is good to see a conscious effort being made to diversify the sport.

BASC also pointed me in the direction of the Home Office statistics on gun ownership. While they don’t publish any data on ethnicity, they do have a breakdown by gender, as shown in the table below…

Percentage of female shooters vs whole

2016 – 5.5%
20175.7%
20185.9%
20196%

TotalFemalesMalesGender not known
2016587,68132,412554,1131,156
2017580,65833,186546,4701,002
2018586,58334,461551,216906
2019591,30235,469555,680153

So the number of women taking up a firearms certificate has grown significantly, yet still at a very slow rate. In fact at that rate, for women to be equally represented as holders of firearms certificates is going to take another 350 years.

You can, of course, look at the statistics another way. If we assume that the difference in numbers between 2016 and 2020 is all down to new shooters joining the sport, then there have been 3,621 new people gained firearms certificates in that period of which 3,057 have been women—that’s nearly 85 per cent of shooters new to the sport.

Statistics also back up Dr Al Gabriel’s assertion that black people live more in urban areas. Indeed, while 10 per cent of white families don’t have access to an outdoor space in their home, that number rises to 37 per cent among black families according to data published by the Office for National Statistics. 

There has also been some research on sports participation that backs up what my interviewees were saying: Recent Sport England research identifies the six themes of language, awareness, safety, culture, confidence and perception of middle class stigma as barriers to participation in outdoor activities for people from an ethnic minority background, which very much echoes what all of the people we interviewed for this feature told us.  

A diversity review commissioned by DEFRA goes into more depth, highlighting several key factors in understanding these lower levels of participation.

One of the key findings from this report is that although the people interviewed valued the natural environment, they often had negative perceptions of the social environment, expecting to feel excluded and conspicuous in what they perceived to be an exclusively English place.

The report goes on to highlight, as we found, that under-representation is largely linked to people’s experiences, rather than negative attitudes linked to ethnicity, culture or religion. 


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