Like other sports, shooting has also taken a huge blow thanks to the lockdown, with very few shooters privileged to have facilities at home. SportsCafe had a chat with Olympian Joydeep Karmakar, who pointed out the difficulties shooters are facing because of the crisis, especially the travel ban.
If we have a close look at the Olympic sports that India are concerned with, Shooting is in a league all by itself. Traditional ones like wrestling, boxing, athletics - each of them are quite taxing physically but do not involve huge costs in day to day operations. But shooting, in lay man’s terms, is a sport for the ‘rich.’ Expensive equipment, including ammunition, should be readily available to a shooter for training. With the advancement of technology, one would expect to get hold of the best quality peripherals, which leads to importing them, especially for India shooters. The recent travel ban, owing to the Covid-19 situation, naturally, has disrupted the normalcy of India’s shooting contingent.
Shooting is one of the booming sports in India, with the country producing top-notch shooters over the past decade. As many as 15 have already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, which has been pushed by a year, due to the health crisis. With the Covid-19 outbreak taking everyone by surprise, shooters rushed back to their place of origin just before the lockdown took effect, while shooting ranges also shut down for an indefinite period. As a matter of fact, most top shooters have practice facilities at home, so it might seem that they have the privilege of plying their trade without discontinuity. But, in reality, there’s more than meets the eye.
The current situation is not inspiring for a sport which heavily depends on the import of equipment - pistols, rifles, ammunition - from European countries like Italy, Germany, UK, which have been some of the worst affected countries by the pandemic. With the travel ban in place, Indian shooters, even if they have facilities at home, would see the ammunition get depleted within a few months if the inflow from the west continues to get hampered. Olympian Joydeep Karmakar feels that the travel ban has hit shooting the worst, even though the athletes can postpone the idea of training abroad for a few months, they cannot do without imported stuff which is necessary for training.
“It is like every other travel ban, shooting has also been affected by the travel ban. Most importantly, most of our equipment is imported; we need to import stuff to run our sports, that where it is hit the most. We are not getting any supply of ammunition or anything which is immediately required. That is one big blockage for the sport. Otherwise, the training part I think the shooters can train here as well if they have everything with themselves. Keep your idea away for training abroad for a few months because even if the lockdown is over, you do not have the freedom to travel immediately,” said Joydeep Karmakar, during a chat with SportsCafe.
Shooters have resorted to dry shooting, which to some extent suffice the lack of live training, but that’s not a permanent solution either. Even if we negate the overseas travel ban, there’s a lot to worry about. The domestic flights were also suspended for the initial days of the lockdown, but that rule has been relaxed for now. The Shooting Federation is in talks to kick-start the domestic season with Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) in place. But India, which has few world-class facilities scattered across different parts of the country, it will be a tough task for shooters from small towns and villages to travel to the place of action. Travelling is still not normalised in the country and more pertinently there are few who would take the risk of hopping around on an aircraft.
“Domestic travel has hit the sport as well. See, the biggest facility in India is in Delhi, or maybe in Bhopal, or Kerala and Sports Authority of India has given some SOP (Standard Operating Procedures), they are talking about starting the domestic season. Then what about a shooter sitting in Kolkata or Chennai, how can they travel to Delhi. I know that domestic flights have started, but I do not feel an athlete would feel to travel in an airplane right now by maintaining the quarantine protocol, I don’t know how that works. Because, sports like shooting, they come from all over India and they don’t have proper infrastructure. They only have centralized infrastructure. They do not have a Sports Authority of India (SAI) range in Kolkata, many of the places do not have, so what are they supposed to do?” added the shooter.
If we dissect this even further, there are more problems which have surfaced thanks to the present situation. India’s supply of shooters in the grassroots is mainly from the private clubs, academies, many of which are situated in small towns and unfortunately, they are not much spoken about or taken care of by the federation either. Joydeep elaborated on the fact of how these institutions might end up losing more than others. The Indian team has often been the talk of the town or claimed the maximum spotlight, it's high time we throw light on the issues faced by aspiring shooters, who are yet to get recognised in the system.
“It is not only about the Indian team shooters, the backbone of the Indian shooting is the grassroots level coming from all the private clubs and the private academies. Though they are not officially recognized, they are not spoken about, they are taken care of by the Federation, it will be unfair to only talk about the Indian shooting team. They’ve already performed in the trails and then got selected; they are already in the system. What about the shooters, who form the supply chain, coming from small villages, small towns, what would happen to them,” concluded the former World no. 4.
It must be noted that India is the seventh-largest country in the world, encompassing a huge area. Even though we have proper transport facilities to ferry people from one place to the other, social distancing norms and the lockdown have made it quite difficult for travelling. Even as we speak, many of the top shooters have already refused training outdoors and preferred to stay at home due to health concerns. This clearly sends an indication to other shooters, who would replicate the same, and since many of them do not have facilities would lose out on a lot. Until the travel ban is eased, it's a tough time for Indian shooters.