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IOC looks to replace bullets with laser beams

The Indian Express logoThe Indian Express 26-02-2017
© Indian Express

If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has its way, shooting ranges across the world could become bullet-free, with shooters firing laser beams at targets. While the IOC’s reasons for this change range from difficulties involved in travelling with weapons to the lack of television appeal for the sport, the shooting fraternity isn’t pleased.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ongoing World Cup at the Karni Singh Shooting Range in Delhi, Hungarian coach Laszlo Pinter was dismissive of the IOC’s plans. “Shooting won’t be a sport then,” he said. “It will be Star Wars.”

These apprehensions gained momentum when, earlier this week, the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) decided to scrap three key events from its Olympic programme after being told by the IOC to make the sport more gender-neutral and youth-friendly.

Shooters fear the next big change will be the introduction of laser pistols and rifles. Currently, shooters use ammunition for three key events – rifle, pistol and shotgun. “That’s the future — laser shooting. Slowly and gradually, we are moving in that direction, at least in the pistol and rifle (events),” said Italy’s Daniele di Spigno, who has competed in four Olympics and once held a team world record in double trap.

It was in February last year that the IOC formally made the proposal on laser shooting to the ISSF. IOC sports director Kit McConnell had met the shooting federation’s secretary, Franz Schreiber, and vice-president Gary Anderson at the ISSF’s headquarters last February.

According to an ISSF report on the meeting, “The ISD (IOC Sports Department) encouraged the ISSF to give serious consideration to develop laser shooting as a new discipline for the future.” The report added, “We believe the IOC is serious about wanting to see the development of a laser shooting discipline.”

Several Indian shooters and coaches The Sunday Express spoke to said they were aware of the move and were “nervously waiting” for ISSF’s response to the IOC proposal. The rifle and pistol events have been India’s strengths over the last decade, with medals won at the Olympics and Asian and Commonwealth Games.

The reason for the change, shooters say, is the perception that the sport is violent and not very spectator-friendly. Moreover, carrying weapons and ammunition for tournaments is a complicated process that involves a lot of paperwork and permissions. During the London Olympics in 2012, the IOC struggled to get the necessary clearances because of the strict gun laws in the UK. “The sport is facing issues to stay relevant, let us be honest about it. Overall, the general feeling is that there is a need to make the sport spectator-friendly,” said Great Britain’s shooting coach Kevin Gill.

The IOC uses television ratings as one of the key criteria to determine the popularity of a sport. Though shooting has remained a part of the Games since the birth of the Olympics, it does not attract a lot of spectators at the event or on television. The qualifying events are not even televised.

Australia’s rifle coach Petr Kurka, who has been associated with the sport for 40 years, said IOC’s move was intended to attract the younger audience. “A lot of youngsters today are glued to arcade games. Laser shooting will be a lot like that and hence, they hope it will appeal to them,” Kurka said.

The shooters, however, believe laser shooting involves far fewer skills than the traditional sport. “Laser pistols and rifles are too literal, too perfect. In some events such as the 50m, the shooter has to judge the wind speed, direction, etc. Those elements will be gone with lasers. We tried to explain this to the IOC,” said a senior member of the ISSF’s rifle jury.

Britain coach Gill said, “Bullets are the real stuff. Not these lasers.”

Hungarian shooter Peter Sidi, a former world champion who has won 26 World Cup medals, said the sport would end up becoming an arcade game. “You’ll miss the boom when the trigger is pulled. You don’t want silent guns. It’ll be like car racing without the noise,” Sidi said.

Modern pentathlon, which has shooting as one of its five sports, shifted to laser pistol a couple of years ago. That has added to the pressure on ISSF to act but they have resisted so far. “We have told IOC that laser shooting can’t happen now. Who knows what’s going to happen in the future,” said the ISSF jury member.

Sidi, though, knows what’s to be done if the sport moves to laser shooting. “I will quit shooting,” he said.

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