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Road to the Olympics: Understanding the qualification process for Shooting (Part 3)

Road to the Olympics: Understanding the qualification process for Shooting (Part 3)

Kapil Choudhary

Published: 17 Feb 2019 4:52 AM GMT

This is Part 3 of a four part series explaining the Olympic qualification for shooting in Tokyo 2020. Given the proximity to the ISSF Shooting World Cup in Delhi later this month where quota places for Tokyo 2020 will be up for grabs, we look to provide a concise overview to understand where the Indian athletes currently stand with a view to the Games.

A few months before the 2012 Olympics, controversy broke out in Indian shooting. The NRAI had selected Heena Sidhu, then a relatively unknown shooter among casual fans, ahead of Athens Silver medallist Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore in the London bound squad. Our current sports minister was unhappy, and angry, and let it be clearly known. 

But how exactly did Heena, a women’s pistol shooter, even come in direct competition for the last spot in the squad with Rathore, a men’s shotgun shooter? To understand this, one needs to understand the Olympic qualification process for shooting. While it may seem a little too complicated at first, shooting actually has one of the most logical, and frankly, one of the best qualification processes among all Olympic sports.

To understand the qualification process, one first needs to understand some basics of shooting and the various events that will be contested at Tokyo (Part 1 available here and Part 2 can be found here).

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule for shooting at the Olympics is that a maximum of only 2 shooters (or 2 teams) per country can participate in each of the 15 events. Under absolutely no circumstances can this Golden Rule ever be broken.

The Quota

Shooting qualification is based on the concept of Quotas. In simple terms, a Quota is a shooter’s ticket to compete in Tokyo. If a shooter doesn’t have a Quota, he can’t go to Tokyo (though it is important to note that having a Quota is different from winning a Quota, as will be explained later).

Every Quota is linked to a particular event. Once a shooter has a Quota, he will be going to Tokyo and once there, he will compete in the event to which his Quota is linked, and, in addition, can also compete in any of the other events. The only requirements to compete in such additional events are

  1. The Golden Rule should not be broken

  2. The shooter must have attained the MQS standard in every event he competes in. MQS is a minimum qualification score that a shooter needs to shoot in at least one of the various ISSF designated international competitions, in the 2 years prior to the Olympics. For most top level shooters, this is just a formality.

The reason the qualification process is based on this Quota concept is that the IOC desires a total of exactly 360 shooters (180 men and 180 women) competing in Tokyo. The number of athletes allotted to every sport has always been a bottleneck at the Olympics, with every additional athlete requiring lodging, boarding and other facilities, thus adding to host costs. Hence, to keep the size of the Olympics manageable, the number of athletes in the athletes village is meticulously controlled. In fact, as with many other sports, the total Quotas for shooting have been reduced from 390 in Rio 2016 to 360 in Tokyo 2020.

On the other hand, as shooting does not require head-to-head match-ups, having additional shooters competing in an event is not much of a logistical issue and only adds to the level of competition. Thus, once shooters are on-site, they are allowed to compete in as many events as possible.

Who wins the Quota

Every individual shooter can win a maximum of only one Quota across ALL events (except for the Mixed Team events, which are a special case). This rule makes perfect sense as every shooter requires just one Quota to go to Tokyo and compete in multiple events, and thus there is no reason to allow the same shooter to win multiple Quotas.

Further, to maintain the Golden Rule, every country can win only 2 Quotas per event.

When are Quotas Won

Quotas are awarded to the highest finishing eligible shooters (eligibility as explained above) at the 2018 World Championships, various 2019 World Cups, and in continental championships.

The below table shows the Quotas available at the different competitions (continental championships other than Asia are not mentioned)

In addition, one Quota is available in each of the 12 individual events based on the World Ranking (as of April 30, 2020). The highest ranked shooter in each event who fails to win a Quota (across all events), and whose country fails to win even a single Quota in that event, will be awarded a World Ranking Quota.

There are also few Quotas reserved for the hosts Japan (which will be granted only if Japan fails to win them in regular competition) and for the Tripartite Commission which provides invitational Quotas to small shooting countries. From an Indian perspective, these are irrelevant.

Mixed Team Quotas

Mixed Team Quotas were available only at the 2018 World Championships in Korea. Each of the 3 team events offered 2 Team Quotas (equivalent to 4 individual Quotas). As a special rule, shooters who were part of Quota winning mixed teams are still eligible to win an individual Quota in individual events. Unfortunately, India was unable to win any of these mixed team Quotas.

With only few team Quotas available, the mixed team events at Tokyo 2020 will largely be composed of shooters shooting in individual events that team up with their country mates to form a mixed team.

Who owns the Quota

Anjum Moudgil

A defining characteristic of the shooting Quota is that it is owned by the country, not the individual shooter. Thus, for example, an Apurvi Chandela may win a Quota for India, but the NRAI may decide to award this Quota to Mehuli Ghosh and send her to the Olympics instead of Apurvi Chandela. The only exception is the Quota earned through world ranking, which belongs to the individual shooter and not the country.

This rule is in place because every country is restricted to only 2 Quotas per event.

For example, say a country has three great shooters in 10m Air Rifle. Two of the three manage to win Quotas early on in the qualification process. Once this is done, the third shooter now has no chance to win a Quota even if he becomes the best shooter in the world and his performance outshines the other two as the Olympics approaches.

Further, the performance of the Quota winners may taper off. To provide for such situations, it is the country which owns the Quotas won and thus the national federation may award them to whomsoever they select.

Every country has its own internal policies for awarding Quotas. Some may simply award them to the Quota winners. Others may conduct a final selection trial and award all available Quotas to the best performers at these trials. India, through the NRAI, follows a documented selection policy based on the average scores achieved by shooters in various international competitions, as well as domestic trials. Bonus points are also given for winning medals, reaching finals, achieving a high world ranking and, above all, winning the Quota in the first place. While the policy is largely followed, the NRAI does reserve the right to deviate from it in national interest, and this can sometimes lead to controversy.

Unused Quotas and Quota Exchange

Because of the way the Quota allocation is designed, some top countries may end up with additional Quotas that they are unable to use.

As an example, say that India ends up winning the maximum two Quotas each in the men’s 10m Air Rifle and 50m Rifle 3 Positions events. India decides that Gagan Narang is its best shooter in both the events and thus will be competing in both, with Ravi Kumar and Sanjeev Rajput being the 2nd shooters in 10m Air Rifle and 50m Rifle 3 Positions respectively. As every one of the 3 shooters requires only 1 Quota to go to Tokyo, India now has an additional Quota which it is unable to use.

Due to the possibility of such unused Quotas, the ISSF has a special rule where every country can request to exchange a maximum of 1 Quota from one event to another event, within the same gender. So, in the above example, India can exchange the Quota in, say, 50m Rifle 3 Positions for an additional Quota in, say, the Men’s Trap event (countries can actually make a Quota exchange request for any reason and the exchanged Quota need not necessarily be unusable).

However, only one Quota exchange per country is allowed. In addition, the exchange has to be ratified by the ISSF, though that is normally a formality. Any additional unused Quotas need to be returned to the ISSF and are reallocated to countries who have failed to qualify a single shooter for Tokyo across all events. Thus, Quotas unused by other countries can never be reallocated to India.

This Quota exchange rule was the reason for the controversy that broke out between Heena Sidhu and Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore before the London Olympics. Both shooters had themselves failed to win a Quota, but India had an extra unused Quota in men’s 50m Rifle 3 Positions which the NRAI selection committee decided to exchange for a Quota for Sidhu ahead of Rathore, based on recent performance (at the time, Quota exchange could be done from any event to any event irrespective of gender, but it is now restricted to within the same gender in order to maintain gender equality).

The last part of this article series will explain the current Indian scenario and why every shooting fan in Delhi MUST attend the upcoming Delhi World Cup.
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