Online tournament mirrored the pressures of real-life event, says Shimon Sharif

The ex-Indian shooter speaks about the inspiration behind the online tournament, the overwhelming response and expanding its scope in the future.

By Olympic Channel Writer ·

The shooting community recently found a way to re-engage their competitive spirit amidst the lockdown through an online shooting championship organized by former Indian shooter Shimon Sharif.

Sharif, who set up indianshooting.com in 2005, while he was still an active shooter, decided to incorporate every possible real-life element to make the tournament as believable as possible and it has been immensely successful.

The first one saw 50 shooters from around the world take part in what was effectively a friendly event but the next one was created as a full-fledged tournament with knockouts, commentary and live scores.

The tournament saw more than 10,000 viewers log in on the Facebook live-stream.

Shimon Sharif revealed how the idea took shape and spoke about the future of online shooting competitions.

Excerpts from the interview:

Firstly, congratulations on the success of both events, it has been a huge hit. Could you tell us what sparked off the idea?

Thanks a lot. The first one was great as a start, the second one was even more amazing with a lot more people coming in.

About the online shooting championship, the idea stemmed from the fact that three ISSF World Cups (New Delhi, Munich and Baku) were called off apart from a string of other events due to the lockdown.

The thing with shooters, or any sportsperson for that matter, is that they are primed to look forward to an event, it helps them kick on and keeps them motivated. With nothing to look forward to, they may feel idle and not follow their routine.

Incidentally, I also noticed a lot of my other friends being involved in corporate meetings and webinars on video-calling platforms and that is when I realized something similar could be done for shooting as well.

Moreover, many shooters have a 10m or a similar range set-up at home, mainly to help in their training. All these things came together nicely, and it helped shooting come alive once again.

We hear that a similar event was held in Germany previously. Did that also help you in putting this together?

Actually, not just in Germany, it has happened in other places too but there was a major difference here.

Thing is, those events asked the shooters to record their activity and send in the video later, which was then used to tally up scores; and the lockdown has anyway seen a lot of coaching done over video.

This championship was all about being real-time, with the activities being monitored and the process transparent. The other events were not offline per se, but this witnessed live commentary, results being announced etc., which gives it the real-life feel.

How easy or difficult was it to convince shooters to come on board?

It certainly was a new experience for the shooters and it is a natural human tendency to have doubts about a new idea, especially when it is supposed to begin from scratch.

So to convince them, I talked about my own credentials - how I had been part of the Indian shooting team and my long association with the sport. I managed to get some of them onboard for the first event and of course, it was an enjoyable one for them.

Another thing was that it offered them a chance to be away from the happenings of the real world, it took them back to playing in the sport, which any athlete would crave.

In fact, it gave an escape to non-participants as well. Indian shooter Mehuli Ghosh, who could not be a part because her target system is not set up yet, watched it live and told me later that even witnessing it awakened her competitive spirit and made her want to get back to it as soon as possible.

Were there any technical challenges you faced with such a large-scale event?

As I said, it was a completely new thing for everyone involved, so there was no prior blueprint to follow.

We had performed a test run to circumvent it a day before the actual event. I called the participants together at 4pm IST the previous day and sorted out the issues there.

The main issue, of course, was that the internet got cut off for a few shooters, which logged them out of Zoom, and we had to get used to admitting them back immediately.

The other big challenge was to get the scores calculated as quickly as possible and releasing them required a lot of coordination, which is difficult without physical presence.

Also, not to forget, a lot of people were watching it live, so the pressure to not commit a blunder was big, but we got through it.

The second online shooting championship saw a large number of participants. Photo: indianshooting.com/Twitter

Shooting is largely a sport where you compete with yourself unlike in contact sport. Does this make it easy to organise an online version of the event?

The nature of shooting makes it possible to have an online championship, which is not possible for tennis or badminton or boxing.

I won’t say it is easy to organize obviously, but a virtual version for shooting has enough elements and an outlet to compare scores and declare winners.

How different is the pressure of shooting at a range and shooting in an event of this sort?

I have never actually played an online event, so I cannot recount my personal experience.

However, Indian shooters like Divyansh Singh Panwar, Manu Bhaker and Sanjeev Rajput did admit to me that the pressure was very similar and I think it is very essential for shooters.

They may practice at their home ranges but they cannot simulate the expectations of the audience, the performance of their competitors and the pressure that comes with it, so I’m happy the online championship could provide that.

Can this be replicated on a larger scale? Say have an online international event recognised by ISSF.

I’m sure the ISSF would have been observing this event, the shooting fraternity is quite a close-knit community.

An ISSF-recognized event is possible if they decide to promote more online championships and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approves of it.

One other thing I’d say is that this need not be looked at as only a ‘lockdown’ thing. It could be extended beyond it as well, we could probably say higher participation from shooters who do not have a set-up at home.

They could travel to the ranges, where they practice, that have all the requisite facilities and compete similarly with shooters around the world without bearing the cost of travel or accommodation. It can also help the shooters at the lower levels, who may not probably make their national teams, grow their skills with better competition.

I’m sure that as the idea develops further, we would also have better technology and that will only help shooting going forward.