The denial of Indian visas to Pakistani shooters for the World Cup in New Delhi this week could ironically hurt India, the tournament hosts, in terms of Olympic quota places. The Pakistan Shooting federation has asked international body (ISSF) to withhold the Olympic quotas on offer at the event they were supposed to participate in.
"Pakistan has written to the ISSF. They are requesting us to not distribute Olympic quota places in the rapid fire pistol where the Pakistan athletes were supposed to take part. (They are requesting) to distribute the quotas from the next World Cup in Beijing," ISSF secretary general Alexander Ratner said on Wednesday.
As things stand, there are two quota spots for the 2020 Olympics on offer in the men's 25m rapid fire pistol competition. Three Indian shooters, including 17-year-old Anish Bhanwala who won a gold medal in that event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, are participating in the event.
The denial of Indian visa to the two Pakistan shooters comes in light of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan owing to the terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir last week. While earlier reports suggested that the Pakistan shooters had been granted visas, Ratner said that was not the case. "I have received two letters from the Pakistan shooting federation. The latest one says that haven't been granted a visa."
Ratner said it is not for the ISSF but the International Olympic Committee to determine the distribution of the Olympic quotas. He said he had received the email from the Pakistan federation on Wednesday afternoon but had been in touch with the IOC over the last day. "The IOC is also involved. They refer to this circular and asked us to try to find a solution," he said.
The IOCs stance on the issue of equal treatment for sporting delegations is clear. At the last Olympic Summit at Lausanne, the IOC had agreed that "the allocation of international sports events to a country must include the necessary guarantees to ensure equal treatment for the participating athletes and sporting delegations, without any form of discrimination or political interference from the host country."
That position was also enforced recently when the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on Sunday stripped Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 world para swimming championships after the country banned Israeli athletes from participating.
India could face similar consequences for future competitions. "The ISSF and the Organizing Committee of the competition are taking all efforts to solve the situation to avoid the discrimination of the Pakistani team. Besides that, the ISSF and the Organizing Committee are discussing the possible consequences for India as a host country for future international competitions, in all sports," the ISSF mentioned in a press release.
Ratner though said he didn't expect that situation to take place in India which is due to host a shooting World Cup in 2020. "We can't make parallels here. We know the organizing committee have done everything possible," Ratner said.
While admitting that the Pakistan shooters had not received visas to take part in India, National Rifle Association president Raninder Singh said the competition would go on as scheduled. "The format of the competition doesn't change. It is unfortunate that the Pakistan team for various reasons hasn't been granted visas, despite all our efforts and all clearances being sent to the High Commission. We are asking for a status report from the High Commission and we haven't a response," he said.
Raninder said that the denial of a visa to the Pakistan shooters had to be seen in context of the prevailing circumstances in the country. "The IOC stand in terms of denial of opportunity (to participate without discrimination or political interference) is very clear. We have received advice what the IOC's views are on this. I would like to say that our thoughts are first with the soldiers and our nation's bereavement with this issue. Secondly as per our own responsibilities with the IOA, the Olympic charter, we have made virtually every humanly possible effort to ensure that all nations and athletes receive visa," he said.
"The ISSF and the Organizing Committee are discussing the possible consequences for India as a host country for future international competitions, in all sports" ISSF
Raninder though admitted that it was bound by the wishes of the government of India. "The NRAI cannot comment on the wisdom of the decisions taken by the government of India. We accept what the government wishes to do in these circumstances. What other consequences follow on the basis of the decision, we will see when they come up," he said.
The severity of the IOC response remains to be seen. There is some precedent for action on the basis of denial of visas though. The 2015 Asian Shooting Championships in Kuwait were supposed to serve as an Asian qualifying tournament for the Rio Olympics. However the event lost its qualification status after an Israeli technical delegate was denied a visa by Kuwait. "The denial of a visa is against the non-discrimination principle of the Olympic Charter," the IOC had said in a statement then. The qualifiers were subsequently moved to India.
The ISSF however says it is doing its best to ease the situation with Ratner saying the ISSF president will meet Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore on Wednesday evening. "It is not a question of shooting, it is about the situation in general. We hope we can talk to the minister and find a solution," he said.