The recent announcement that the Olympic shooting events will remain at Woolwich was the straw that broke the camels back. Using temporary facilities will mean there will be no legacy for shooting sports after the Olympics are over.
The shooting plans for London 2012 have been well documented, but I would like to remind readers of what has happened to our Olympic shooting sports since 1996. After the massacre at Dunblane, the Labour Party used the tragedy for its own political ends. In its last throes, the Conservative Party banned full-bore pistols, but did not ban the pistols needed for Olympic shooting. New Labour went one step further for political gain and banned all cartridge pistols in order to be seen to hit the ground running after being elected. When the Bill was given Royal Assent, Alun Michael, the deputy home secretary, stood on the steps of the Home Office and had the audacity to state: We have removed these guns off the streets of Britain, thus insinuating that our pistols were regularly used by the law abiding for nefarious means.
Our cause was not helped at the time by the shooting community, which kept a respectful silence. We were as horrified by the massacre as everyone else. However, it was obvious that we needed to speak up. Our shooting organisations did not rise to the occasion due to being disparate, and some were opposed to pistol shooting as a pariah sport not to be associated with. This is how The Sportsmans Association was born, but it failed to save cartridge pistol shooting.
Since the banning of cartridge pistols the UK has held the 2002 Commonwealth Games. After being forced to reintroduce shooting into the programme,the organisers decided that, instead of building facilities in Manchester as a legacy for the north, they would pay for an upgrade at Bisley. Bravo, we said, and rallied around to make the Games a success. What publicity did we get? None. There was no effort to advertise an international event in the local area. Media coverage by the BBC was equally dismal. The final, in which Mick Gault won another gold, did not feature due to technical difficulties, yet the same match was shown live in India. At the time, I tackled the BBCs director at Bisley. He was pulling his hair out as he had some of the most exciting sport he had covered in years, but it was not being taken for transmission. I believe this was due to Government pressure.
The outcome was that the only people at Bisley were the volunteers, judges and grass-roots shooters who were spectating and they made it a success for the competitors. As a result of the event, there are modern facilities as a legacy. That success gave the Government ammunition to refute that the ban affects competition shooting in this country. They point out how successful the Games were, but dont mention that many other events dont happen because of the ban, for example the annual Commonwealth Games European Division Championships.
Despite politicians privately admitting that the 1997 Firearms Act was wrong (the current defence secretary said as much to me) they will not commit to reforming it. The home secretary has still not made provision for our pistol shooters to train in the UK, despite the MOD offering facilities for them to train on secure military ranges in barracks.
In March, British Shootings budget was drastically cut by £3million. It has lost its performance director and very few shooters are being financially supported for 2012. Yet the Government is prepared to waste £30million or more at Woolwich.
We have the debacle of building a temporary facility with no legacy for shooting. Worst of all, none of our shooters will have the comfort or advantage of shooting on their home range. One of the main reasons that the home countries do so well when they host games is that the home athletes are competing at facilities they have used for years. This helps to reduce the pressures when performing as they know the smell, feel, idiosyncrasies and all those little things about the facilities that give them an edge over their opponents. Woolwichs facilities will not be available for our hooters to train on beforehand. Shooters of all nations will have the same amount of time to train at the venue as British competitors. Therefore, we are calling on all British shooters, volunteers and so on to withdraw from offering their services for the Woolwich venue. Support our shooters by all means, but dont assist the Government with running the event.
Our judges and other volunteers will argue that they want to run the best event possible for our shooters to help them win. That doesnt wash anymore. If we again make the Games a success the Government will do nothing in return for us. We must harness the anger felt by the shooters of this country to embarrass the Government. This will be the last opportunity we have to publicise how the law-abiding shooters of this country have been treated and to demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee the lack of legacy and how the Olympic charter is being broken by the UKs pistol shooters not being
able to train here.
Albie Fox is the press officer for the Sportman’s Association