Russian shooters taking part in Asian events could soon turn into reality, with the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) set to hold talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the coming days to finalise the pathway for the return of the athletes from the exiled nation.
Although the road might be complicated, ISSF president Luciano Rossi told The Indian Express he doesn’t want athletes to ‘pay the bill’, adding that ‘slowly, slowly IOC wants to open doors for qualification (for Paris Olympics) of Russian and Belarusian athletes.’
Asked if this could mean the shooters from these two countries could compete in Asian events, including the Asian Games, and fight for Olympic quotas in continental competitions, Rossi said: “It’s very difficult (for them) to play in Europe. We know that the Olympic spirit is friendship, respect and peace but the political situation is different. I will talk to (IOC president) Thomas Bach and we will know what happens in a short time.”
Russia’s relationship with European countries in particular has been strained after it invaded Ukraine last year in February. Now, as the Road to Paris gathers pace and many tournaments are set to be held in Europe, the inclusion of Russian athletes in those competitions looks uncertain. Amidst this, the Olympic Council of Asia handed them a lifeline in January by offering a chance to compete in its events, including the Asian Championships and Asian Games.
While the modalities of it are yet to be disclosed, the inclusion of shooters in Asian events, including the Olympic qualifiers, won’t be so straightforward. One of the IOC’s conditions to allow Russian and Belarussian athletes is the neutrality factor, meaning that they shouldn’t have supported the war in any way.
This could pose a challenge, Rossi admitted, given many Russian shooters are employed by their military. “The direction is to slowly open because it’s not good that athletes pay this bill. But of course, if there are some soldiers, police… I hope some solution solves this problem. We are with our brothers from Ukraine who received this aggression,” he said.
Pushed to a corner
How this impacts Asian shooters, in terms of qualification places, will also be a factor for the Games where shooting has already been pushed into a ‘corner’.
Shooting, which is fighting for relevance in an evolving Olympic programme, has been kicked out of the host city and will be held 300km away in Châteauroux. This means that for participating shooters, there will be few chances to get drawn into the buzz and excitement of the host city Paris as well as the possibility of missing the opening ceremony given that shooting begins on Day 1 of the Games.
Rossi, who was elected as the federation’s president late last year after defeating Russian oligarch Vladimir Lisin in a closely-contested election, said the sport was heading in a ‘dangerous direction.’
“We realise shooting went into the corner at the Olympics. For the first time in the history of shooting, don’t forget the father of the modern Olympic Games Pierre de Coubertin was a pistol shooter, we went out of the Olympic (city). It was a very bad message, to be out of the city. Now we are working hard to support Paris 2024. But this direction was dangerous,” he said.
He calls the situation dangerous because it wasn’t in isolation. The Italian says this came on the heels of the Tokyo Olympics, where shooting’s performance on many parameters set by the IOC was ‘a disaster.’ “I saw the report in Lausanne (IOC headquarters) about what happened in Tokyo – it was a disaster because there were no spectators, no ticket sales, no good broadcast production, and no social media. Now we have to be different. We have a beautiful sport,” he said.
Rossi said he has kept TV production and social media on top of his priorities. But the high costs of constructing a shooting range and limited sustainability options mean that while shooting is likely to be held within the city limits at the LA Games, it could be hosted at a temporary venue. Sharing the venue, in turn, could result in a change of programme.
At present, shooting is among the high-medal sports at the Olympics, offering 15 gold medals. Asked if there could be any reduction of events at LA, Rossi said he ‘hoped’ not. “It’s important that shooting is in the same events. But we have to create some solution to use shooting ranges for other sports.”