An unprecedented 3,500 participants have confirmed their presence at the ongoing 59th National Shooting Championships in New Delhi. The number this time around is about 700 more than the 2,800 registered at the annual event last year.
While the figures are encouraging towards suggesting a growth in the sport, there is the downside of overcrowding the national tournament. The competition provides a platform for junior shooters to observe, learn and compete against the senior Olympic level shooters. Yet for the seniors, shooting against inexperienced opposition can be a distraction. “In the rapid fire category, you get three seconds to make a shot. Seniors will use the entire three seconds to compose themselves and take a shot, whereas some juniors will rush through it. So the constant sound of a gun shooting next to you can ruin the rhythm,” explains Sheela Kanungo, a veteran pistol shooter and coach.
“Sometimes what also happens is a junior will accidentally hit the frame of the target, and the broken particles will fly into the next lane where a senior is shooting. That can be very distracting as well,” she adds.
This time around though there aren’t many participants that have relied on a ‘wildcard’ entry to make it to the event. While the qualification standards have remained the same at the Zonals and GV Mavalankar Shooting Championship — both being the qualification events for the nationals — a higher number of shooters have successfully crossed the mark. “There have been more people shooting at an efficient level now. And because of that there’s actually been a reduction in the number of wildcards coming up this year,” asserts Raninder Singh, president of the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI).
The procedure of granting participants wildcard entries meanwhile has become lenient over the past few years. Kanungo recalls a time when the privilege was awarded to a junior athlete who missed the qualification mark by a maximum of two points. “Of late some state associations have been increasing the grace marks so more shooters can go for the nationals,” she says.
Logistically, the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range is well adept at accommodating the higher number. The number of qualification rounds will also remain the same. Nonetheless, given the excess participants, the tournament will require an extension.
“There were pre-event training sessions on the first day. But if someone is scheduled to shoot on the fourth day, that may go on to the fifth or sixth. That too causes a bit of a problem,” Kanungo states.
Meanwhile, the sudden increase also throws changes in the way the national event is perceived. “The sanctity of the national championships goes down if any Tom, Dick and Harry can compete,” mentions a senior shooter competing at the meet, adding, “Accha mela lag raha hai 3500 logon ka.”
Accordingly, plans are being suggested to control the event better. Kanungo advises the possibility of increasing the qualification standards by a few points. Raninder though is cautious about raising the bar too high. “We don’t want it to be raised to a level that matches international tournaments because that will be detrimental for upcoming shooters,” he says.
Raninder is also contemplating a move to host the rifle and pistol nationals separately. “At the moment the shotgun event happens separately. If the numbers keep increasing, we can work towards hosting the rifle and pistol events individually as well.”