Two days before the start of the ISSF World Cup in New Delhi, participating shooters were caught in a state of confusion over the status of the tournament as a qualification event for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. While ISSF President Vladimir Lisin said that the tournament was to lose its Olympic quotas, NRAI chief Raninder Singh said Lisin had misspoken and the matter was still undecided.
Speaking at the opening ceremony on Thursday evening, Lisin said the fact that two Pakistani shooters were denied visas contradicted the IOC's charter against political interference in sport. He said that the 16 Olympic quota spots on offer across events at the New Delhi tournament would be passed on to another World Cup.
"Pakistani athletes could not get visa to come to this event. This is not the fault of ISSF or organizing committee. The Olympic charter says athletes should not be discriminated. The International Olympic Committee informed us this World Cup will not be included in the competitions for Olympic quotas. In this case, the quotas will be distributed in another World Cup. No one can be discriminated and we have to follow the IOC decision as part of the IOC family," Lisin said.
The two Pakistani shooters - GM Bashir and Khalil Ahmed - were supposed to participate in the men's rapid fire pistol competition. However they failed to receive their visa after tensions rose between India and Pakistan following a terrorist attack in Pulwama.
NRAI president Raninder Singh, however, said that Lisin had meant to say that the quotas 'may' be withdrawn. "He didn't say that (all 16 quotas have been scrapped). He said (the ISSF) may not be able to give quotas. He didn't say it's been withdrawn. You can take the clarification," Singh said.
"Nothing is cancelled as of now," he added. "The status as of now is we don't know. We are waiting. There are meetings that are going on where the position is being assessed by the IOC and the government. Everyone is working very hard but it is a very peculiar position. It is unprecedented and unfortunate. We hope that some form of solution will be forthcoming in the next few hours, maximum within the day where the honour of the sports, the dignity of the Olympic charter and requirements of us as host nation will be kept in mind," Singh added.
The IOC said the matter of withdrawing the Olympic quotas from the World Cup was still being deliberated. "The IOC is aware of the case and the Executive Board (EB) is deliberating on it. The decision of the IOC EB will be issued at 10 p.m. Lausanne time this evening," the IOC said in a statement.
The prospect of not being able to compete for an Olympic quota left shooters understandably disappointed. "I have been preparing for the last two years with the goal of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. I had missed out on a quota at the Changwon World Cup and I had come to India to win a quota place here. It's very disappointing," said 2016 Russia's Sergey Kamenskiy, who won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
While upset that she would not be able to win a qualification spot for the Tokyo Olympics, Asian Games Gold medallist Rahi Sarnobat said she understood the context in which the decision was made. "What can we do about it? We respect the decision the government has taken. The fact that we cannot win a quota doesn't affect our determination and motivation for this tournament. We are still representing India," said Rahi, who competes in the 25m rapid fire pistol event.
It wouldn't be without precedent if the IOC decides to withdraw the Olympic quota places on offer at the New Delhi World Cup. The 2015 Asian Championships lost their status as an Olympic qualification event after the IOC suspended the Olympic committee of hosts Kuwait for political interference. Kuwait had rejected the visa application of Yair Davidovitz, an Israeli ISSF technical delegate. "The denial of a visa is against the non-discrimination principle of the Olympic Charter," the IOC had said then.
Davidovitz was present at the opening ceremony on Thursday and while he said the matter was still uncertain owing to the multiple statements made that evening, he said it would be possible to know just what the decision of the IOC was. "You won't know what the exact situation will be until the tournament begins. Then you will see it on the faces of the shooters whether they are going to be competing for a place in the Olympics or not," he said.