For two weeks, during the shooting World Cup at Delhi’s Karni Singh Range, one of the most discussed things was the future of the sport in the Olympics. Among the biggest challenges shooting faces at the moment is the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) proposal to make ranges across the world bullet-free by introducing laser shooting. While the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), the sport’s world governing body, remains confident that the change will not ultimately go through, shooters fear the worst. What are the issues in the IOC’s proposal about junking bullets, and why are shooters and the Federation opposed?
To begin with, what is ‘laser shooting’?
The sport of shooting currently has three disciplines—Rifle, Pistol and Shotgun. The shooters use either real bullets or pellets. If the change is forced, then the pistols and rifles used by sports shooters will fire laser beams at the targets instead of bullets. The IOC’s proposal is to bring this change only in Rifle and Pistol events for the time being.
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But why does the IOC want shooters to switch from bullets to lasers?
There are multiple reasons for it. The most important reason is to make shooting more appealing to millennials — young people who reached adulthood in the early 21st century, and whose support and interest all sport needs to survive. The IOC has been looking to invest in sports that excite the youth. A glance at the sports included in the Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020 — climbing, skateboarding and surfing — provides an idea of the direction in which the IOC wants the Olympics to go.
Shooting lasers, flashy red beams and all, will make the sport attractive and fashionable, the IOC believes, and engage a wider audience. The change will also make shooting television-friendly, an aspect where it lacks sorely at present. It will also take care of the complications involved in carrying weapons and ammunition by shooters while travelling from one country to another. It requires a lot of paperwork and clearances, and the IOC faced a lot of trouble in getting these aspects sorted during the 2012 London Olympics because of the strict gun laws in the United Kingdom. Another important issue, the IOC says, is that shooting at present is not completely environment-friendly.
How does shooting harm the environment?
The bullets that the shooters use are made of lead, which gets into the atmosphere every time a shot is fired. The chemical can potentially have an adverse effect on the nervous system as well. Thousands of bullets are used at each shooting range every day.
And how has the ISSF reacted to the proposal for change?
The Federation’s senior officials have laughed off the idea. They insist the sport will not change, and have conveyed this to the IOC in so many words.
What about shooters?Are they happy with the proposal to shoot lasers?
None of the shooters is excited about laser shooting, although most of them do seem resigned to the fact that the change will eventually take place. Some have reacted strongly:the legendary Hungarian shooter Péter Sidi, who has won 25 World Cup medals, has said he will quit if shooting shifts to laser. His coach, Laszlo Pinter, has said contemptuously that the sport would be reduced to “Star Wars” if the changes were gone through.
Okay, but why exactly are shooters and the ISSF averse to this change?
The basic fabric of the sport, they say, will be impacted. The ISSF says that laser technology is as yet not developed to the level where it can create the same environment during competitions as real bullets. Shooters say lasers will make the sport a bit of an arcade game. Shooting involves a lot of intangibles like wind speed. Lasers will take those away and make the sport too literal and predictable. Also, the most fascinating aspect of the sport is the sound of a bullet being fired. The boom that follows the pulling of the trigger is akin to the roar of the engines at a Formula 1 race. Take that away, and the sport will fall flat.
And would the arms manufacturers’ lobby have a role to play?
The biggest difficulty for governing bodies — IOC and ISSF — will be,in fact, to fight the weapons lobby, should the switch be effected. This is a multi-million dollar industry, which will be directly impacted if the sport moves from bullets to lasers. Shooters say the impact would be similar to what apparel manufacturers Nike or Adidas would face if the IOC were to,say, introduce barefoot running at the Olympics.
Can the IOC say, “change or you’re out”?
Yes, it can, just like it did with wrestling a couple of years earlier — or even with shooting a few months ago. The IOC forced the ISSF to change three of its events to ensure gender equality. And despite strong opposition from the shooters, the ISSF had to do it to continue staying at the Olympics. So if the IOC says, “change to laser or else”, ISSF will have few options left.
If the IOC enforces the change, by when will laser shooting be introduced?
Not at Tokyo, for sure. The ISSF submitted its events programme for the Tokyo Games last week, so the earliest the switch can happen is at the 2024 Olympics. However, a senior ISSF official told The Indian Express that the sport would remain unchanged for at least the “next two Olympics”.
Why should India be worried about the change?
Shooting is one of the few Olympic sports in which India has consistently done well. It has brought the country the most medals at the Commonwealth Games, and although the performance hasn’t been replicated at the Asian Games or the Olympics, shooting remains one of India’s best disciplines. Several promising shooters have emerged of late, and such a fundamental change would undoubtedly severely impact the country’s prospects.