Gold Medal Gunslingers
Combat Shooting Targets the Olympic Games
Section Five: The Road to Olympic RecognitionThe Olympic process is not a simple one. A place in the Games' opening ceremony is one of the most sought after prizes in all of athletics. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, just 28 sports will compete with full Olympic medal status.48 The IOC also recognizes 25 additional non-medal sports. These "sports in waiting" hope that one day they may be granted full Olympic recognition and medal participation.
As president of the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch, along with a panel of representatives from various countries, is the final arbiter on Olympic recognition. In fact, however, much of the influence over the decision lies with IOC Director of Sport Gilbert Felli, who advises Samaranch on such matters. Interviewed for this report, Felli was oblique in his assessment of the IPSC's application for admission of combat shooting, stating: "All sports applying for Olympic recognition begin with an equal chance. These people [the IPSC] have made application to the Committee, and we will accord them the same consideration as any other applicant."49
Felli's diplomatic caution offers little hint of the IOC's inclinations on the admission of combat shooting. Most "new" sports take seven years or more to complete the process of admission to formal Olympic recognition.50 While supporters of sports such as whitewater kayaking, karate, water skiing, and bowling are careful not to sound presumptuous about their future role in the games, combat shooting proponents seem to have received all the encouragement they need to be publicly confident of their place in this lineup.
The IPSC began its race for recognition in 1997, with the hope of being included in the 2004 Olympics in Athens as an exhibition sport. The organization's first move was persuading Indonesian authorities to admit combat shooting as a warm-up event in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Asia's version of the Olympics. This victory caused unbridled�and perhaps premature�excitement in the U.S. combat shooting magazine GunGames:
Indonesia...presented an IPSC tournament as an official demonstration event. That was the first time Practical Shooting was featured in an Olympic-sanctioned affair!...But the best news of all comes from IPSC President Nick Alexakos who reported to us that Practical Shooting has been officially cleared as an exhibition event at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. In 2004, IPSC shooters will march at the Olympic stadium in Greece alongside the rest of the world's best athletes!51There was similar early optimism in other countries. The New Zealand Pistol Association's magazine, The Bullshooter, reported:
Practical Pistol Shooting has been confirmed as a demonstration sport for the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece. The speed, challenge and skill level of competitors, combined with spectator appeal that Practical Pistol enjoys, will undoubtedly see this sport draw considerable attention.52At its General Assembly in Caracas in 1997, the IPSC voted to approach the International Olympic Committee.53 Assistant IPSC Secretary Doug Lewis recalls:
The Executive Council was instructed to continue to pursue the Olympic application process and make formal request for recognition....The Hellenic Shooting Federation forms part of the organizing committee for the 2004 Athens Olympics and has pledged that IPSC will be a demonstration sport. There was a great deal of applause here!54Although this bold promise was made by the IPSC Regional Director for Greece55, such confidence was perhaps excessive. By the next year the IPSC already faced a setback to its Olympic hopes, finding itself�
in a dispute with the Greek Minister of Sports who says that IPSC is not a sport but simply a 'distraction'�a hobby. We are not at all amused and have taken this battle to the highest levels. Without the approval from the good Minister there would be no gun permits issued to our Greek members and this is a serious matter.56According to one Greek combat shooter, "The Ministry [of Sport] has actually instructed the Greek Shooting Confederation (SKOE) not to organize any more IPSC matches!"57 Alexakos, the IPSC president, acknowledged in 1998 that the formal application to the IOC was only the first step in a "colossal application process."58
In the following months, the IPSC stepped up its lobbying efforts to gain supporters to intervene with the Greek authorities on their behalf. IPSC officials met with the IOC's Felli59 and with Tamas Ajan, vice president of the General Association of International Sport Federations (GAISF). After the latter meeting, Alexakos enthused:
Dr. Tamas Ajan...[is] an IPSC shooter! We spent an hour together in his office discussing the upcoming GAISF General Assembly in Monaco and the procedure for GAISF application....[I attended] the Congress of GAISF. Every sports federation in the world was in attendance."60Finally, in a December 1998 IPSC newsletter piece entitled "IPSC Victory in Greece: An Early Christmas Present," Alexakos wrote:
We are extremely pleased to announce that the Greek Minister of Sports has agreed with the Hellenic Shooting Association [sic] and officially recognized the legitimacy of IPSC. I would like to personally thank the Regional Directors from around the world who rose to the �call for action' by writing their concerns to the Greek minister.61Even after this early success with the Greek authorities, other obstacles to Olympic status for combat shooting remain.
In November 1998, Annie Lory Bachrach, the IPSC's sales and marketing representative, wrote to the IOC to ask that the process of Olympic recognition for combat shooting be advanced to the next stage. Such direct application to the IOC is somewhat unusual. Sports bidding for Olympic inclusion generally cooperate with one of the existing international athletic federations. In this normal course of events, the IPSC's application would have been made with the help and approval of the world body for all Olympic shooting, the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) in Munich. The leaders of the ISSF, however, are anything but supportive of combat shooting.
In an interview for this report, ISSF Secretary General Horst G. Schreiber explained his group's reaction to the IPSC:
They have approached us once, but we said we are not cooperating with them. We want nothing to do with them. The black sheriffs [security guards], the bodyguards�they're all members of this practical shooting. We want none of them in our group....It is not a sport. I think it's a camouflage for those who are supposed to deliver their high-power .45 pistols to the government, and they [seek to] find some sort of a legal possibility to keep possession of their revolvers or pistols.62According to Schreiber, combat shooting partisans in many countries have responded to this opposition at the international level by persuading national shooting sports federations to support them. In some instances, Schreiber said, combat shooters have come close to taking control of the national groups, including those in France, Australia, and New Zealand. Schreiber explained that he and other ISSF leaders would fight such attempts:
I know in France, a year or two years ago, this practical shooting federation tried to take over the Federation Francaise du Tir, our member federation. Some of the practical shooting federation's officials were sneaking in[to] the French federation. We warned them that we don't want any [practical shooting] officials dealing with us. We want to keep the [French] sport shooting federation recognized as our member, but if practical shooting takes over, we will not keep up recognition. We probably might exclude them. We might suspend membership.63Clearly, hurdles to Olympic recognition remain. Yet, the IPSC has already proven its skill at navigating the labyrinthine process. Winning the Greek government's approval of its sporting status was a major step forward. In addition, by making direct application to the IOC, the IPSC may have neutralized the effect of the ISSF's objections.
Moreover, there has been virtually no other opposition to combat shooting�either from gun control advocates or from others concerned about subverting the aims of the Olympic Charter with an activity built around lethal weaponry and violent fantasy.
If the IPSC continues its determined push without scrutiny or objection, it is entirely possible that future Olympics will feature competitors packing riot shotguns and assault weapons, jumping around in imaginary bank vaults or city streets, firing at the heads and hearts of human-shaped targets.
In that case, the ideals of the Olympic Charter and the targeted "bad guys" will not be the only casualties. The cause of international gun control would be badly damaged if combat shooting is legitimized. It remains to be seen whether the IPSC will face any real opposition in its quest for this gold medal.