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Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games: Shooting

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2018

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the removal of shooting sports from Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I would like to push forward with the efforts started by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—I am pleased to see him present—to make the case for the reinstatement of shooting sports at the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham. I have picked up many of the points raised during his Adjournment debate, and I will expand on them in the wake of the home nations’ phenomenal performance at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games this year.

The decision not to include shooting in the 2022 Commonwealth games in Birmingham has left many in the UK, particularly in my constituency, confused and unhappy. The matter is of particular importance to a constituent of mine, David McMath, a 21-year-old young man who recently won gold in the men’s double trap competition at the games this year. He set a games record with a total of 74—four ahead of his nearest rival, Tim Kneale from the Isle of Man, who took silver.

Without a doubt, shooting is a source of extreme national pride for the home nations of the United Kingdom, as it is one of our strongest sports. In fact, we are the second strongest group in shooting events and managed to collect 38% of the medals on offer this year. Not adding shooting to the 2022 games has taken away 57 medal opportunities. Every one of the home nations and Channel Islands participated in the shooting events, which proves the sport’s popularity. In fact, it was the only sport for which the Isle of Man won a medal this year. Given that England came second in the medals table for the past three games, it seems odd and counterproductive that shooting has been removed from the programme.

The Birmingham organisers cited venue issues as the reason not to include shooting in 2022, stating that the only suitable venue would be Bisley, which, at 130 miles from Birmingham, is too far away.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. The notion that Bisley is too far away is simply nonsensical. It was upgraded for the Commonwealth games a number of years ago and is a perfect, ready-made and ready-prepared venue for these events. In addition to the fact that we have lots of medal opportunities in shooting, it is a totally egalitarian sport. People with disabilities, and people of different genders and abilities can compete on the same basis; there is no better sport to demonstrate that.

My hon. Friend makes a number of excellent points and he will be pleased to know that I will cover them all. As I have said, the organisers said that Bisley, at 130 miles from Birmingham, is too far away. They also claimed that it would be too expensive to renovate Bisley. That argument has little merit when we consider that they decided to use the London velodrome track for cycling, which is 135 miles away.

As my hon. Friend has said, Bisley shooting ground was deemed adequate for the Commonwealth games held in Manchester in 2002. Manchester is significantly further north than Birmingham, at a total of 215 miles from Bisley.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on a topic that we are all interested in. The fact that more of those who participated in the Adjournment debate are not here does not mean it is any less of a concern today. Does he agree that the removal of shooting sports from the Birmingham games appears to have more to do with misconceptions about the sport than with a lack of facilities? Will he join me in sincerely urging the Minister to use her influence—I know she is keen to do so—to incorporate this very popular and successful sport into the schedule before it is too late?

The hon. Gentleman makes very good points and I agree with him.

Manchester used Bisley in 2002, although it is 215 miles from the shooting ground. I therefore argue that it can be done and that Bisley can provide the required facilities. I concede that Bisley is not in tip-top condition, but the venue remains fully operational and would require only light modernisation to bring it up to scratch. With 95% of the competition venues already in place, minor refurbishment of the Bisley shooting ground would not add an unfeasible workload to the games organisers.

A second solution is to build a new site alongside the new national shooting centre for which UK Sport and British Shooting are currently securing funding and planning permission. If the organisers of the Birmingham games were to link funding to the national governing body, it would be a fantastic opportunity to ensure that the games leave a lasting legacy.

Shooting is currently on a list of optional sports, from which the host city must choose seven. The organisers of Birmingham 2022 have opted to include table tennis, for which England has only ever won 15 medals. That pales in comparison with the 168 medals won for shooting. They have also opted for 3x3 basketball, which is a novelty in the Commonwealth games. I think shooting is a more important sport.

Given that I have just presented a counter-argument and an alternative option to the venue issue cited by the Birmingham organisers, I see no logical reason why England would want to cheat herself of a significant number of medals by removing shooting from the agenda.

Shooting has been on the Commonwealth games agenda at every games bar 1970. It was originally introduced in 1966 and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) has said, it is one of the most diverse and inclusive sports on offer. Two of the 13 shooting events —the fullbore rifle competitions—are open to men and women. They are the only competitions at the Commonwealth games in which men and women compete equally on an open field. The sport gets people of all backgrounds out and competing. Competitors do not have to be incredibly fit to be active in the sport, which means that people can compete in it for longer. At this year’s games on the Gold Cost, Scotland had two medallists, a man and a woman, aged 21, and two medallists, also a man and a woman, over the age of 50. There was even a competitor from Canada who was in his 80s.

In the spirit of inclusivity, it is worth mentioning that, for many of the small Commonwealth nations, such as Cyprus, Malta, the Falkland Islands, Niue, Norfolk Island and Papa New Guinea, shooting is a dominant sport. Without shooting, some of those nations would not be able to send teams to the games at all. Norfolk Island only sent shooters and bowlers to the 2018 Gold Cost games, and the Turks and Caicos Islands only sent teams for shooting and athletics. To remove shooting from the games would possibly be to deny those small nations access to the competition altogether.

This debate has taken on an international flavour, as I have been contacted by the Crown Prince of Patiala, India, His Highness Raninder Singh, who is also president of the National Rifle Association of India. He stresses how important it is for his country to be involved. I have also had support from Lord Bilimoria, who is in Kenya and has similar strong feelings.

Let me also highlight the impact that this decision would have on India’s medal standing. India is the largest member state, and shooting sports contributed to 24% of the medals she won at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games. At the previous games in Glasgow, 23% of her medals came from shooting sports. Not to include shooting sports in Birmingham will deny India the ability to maximise and showcase her shooting athletes’ skills, which have enabled them to secure the No. 1 position in shooting in the past two games.

Birmingham was only recently announced as the host of the 2022 games. Although I am obviously pleased for the city, it should be noted that the original host, Durban, had confirmed that shooting would be on the agenda. The sudden removal of the sport will deprive the home nations not only of the chance to excel on the medal table but of the opportunity to test their skills on an international stage before the Olympic games in 2024.

The support for the shooting competitions only increases with each games. That is highlighted by 38 of 72 nations competing in the sport at this year’s Gold Coast games. Additionally, the Shooting Times recently launched a petition to get shooting back on the agenda for 2022, and in just four months it has already been signed by more than 60,000 people. To include shooting sports in 2022 will have the threefold effect of boosting the home nations’ performances in the medal table, offering a more diverse and inclusive competition, and creating a forum for the numerous shooting athletes who use the Commonwealth games as a stepping stone to the Olympics.

Therefore, for the reasons I have outlined, I urge the organisers of the Birmingham Commonwealth games to reconsider their decision and to reinstate shooting on the agenda.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) for leading today’s debate, which follows the recent Adjournment debate tabled by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for his intervention. He contributed to the Adjournment debate, and he made a powerful point about the egalitarian nature of the sport.

This is clearly a matter that invokes much passion and is of personal interest to a number of Members across the whole House and their constituents. I am happy to confirm right at the outset that both the Secretary of State and I support the request for the Birmingham games to include shooting, but I should explain our limitations as Ministers of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and the other challenges that need to be overcome.

First, let us remind ourselves of the phenomenal success of shooting at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, hosted at the Royal Artillery barracks. The tears of joy of double trap gold medallist Peter Wilson were a lasting image of the emotion felt by dedicated athletes at the top of their sport. His success was followed by incredible performances at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games by our home nation athletes. They returned from Australia with an impressive 21 medals —22 including the medal won for the Isle of Man. The athletes included David McMath, who won gold in the double trap and, as has been mentioned, is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway. I am sure that Members will join me in recognising and applauding the efforts of our athletes on the international sporting stage. It is a testament to the efforts of these athletes, and to the wider high-performance sporting framework in the UK, that British athletes continue to produce medal-winning performances that inspire us all.

Being the next host city for the Commonwealth games will bring a huge number of positive opportunities to the city of Birmingham, the wider west midlands and the UK as a whole. They will showcase to the world the best of Britain as a destination for international trade, provide new economic growth and social benefits and maximise legacy opportunities for the west midlands. Government have been working closely with their partners Birmingham City Council, Commonwealth Games England, West Midlands Combined Authority and the Commonwealth Games Federation to begin preparations. The process to set up the board of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games organising committee is well under way.

Hosting the games is a significant undertaking that, despite presenting enormous opportunities for Birmingham and the UK, must be done within the requirements of the Commonwealth Games Federation and in a pragmatic way. As custodians of public funds, we must recognise that any changes to the sport programme agreed by games partners will have a financial implication. It is our duty to ensure that the event is delivered in a cost-effective way. As my hon. Friend and hon. Members who contributed to the Adjournment debate will be aware, the host city is bound by regulations that prescribe the delivery of 16 core sports. Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway said, table tennis is a core sport, not an optional sport. In addition, the host city is able to select a small number of sports from the optional list, of which shooting is one.

Shooting is one of the top five most popular sports among participating Commonwealth nations and territories. At Glasgow 2014, more than 350 athletes represented 39 nations and territories. At Gold Coast 2018, 281 athletes from 38 nations and territories took part in the shooting disciplines. I am conscious of my hon. Friend’s point that large Commonwealth countries such as India participate in shooting, but so do very small nations, who contribute a great deal. The list of nations and territories that participated in Glasgow and in Gold Coast include Norfolk Island and Niue, which my hon. Friend mentioned. I am trying to work out whether they are the two smallest; Norfolk Island has a population of about 1,700 people, yet it had eight athletes competing in the shooting discipline at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games.

When selecting optional sports, the games partners should take into account the delivery of a diverse sport programme that will appeal to spectators domestically and abroad; hosting a sport programme that features gender equity and appropriate para-sport inclusion; sport operational staging costs; and the existence of suitable, well-located venues.

Although I hear what my hon. Friend says about Bisley and the London velodrome being equidistant, by the time the games take place, the Bisley venue will be nearly 20 years old. Advancements in the sport and the scale of the events in shooting dictate that the upgrade would incur significant costs. Satellite accommodation would also be required. I understand his point about the geographical aspects—that is not necessarily the argument in this case—but there is a cost incurred. He and the hon. Member for Strangford, who are passionate about shooting, will, I am sure, appreciate that if we are to host a shooting event, we must have the best venue, to attract the world’s best shooters.

The Minister says that Bisley is 20 years old; it has been 20 years since its last refurbishment, but it is much older than that. As a teenager, I shot at Bisley, so I can assure the Minister it is a lot older. It is not a significant cost to bring it up to standard. Could the Minister speak to the games organisers, to put some form of costing in place and to assess generally how expensive it would be to go to Bisley? My understanding is that there is not much to do.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s clarification, but it is not just about the cost; it could also be about the accommodation. We are looking at the issue and, as I said at the outset, the Secretary of State and I both support the inclusion of shooting, but as core partners in the delivery of the Commonwealth games, we must ensure we deliver a cost-effective games. These are not necessarily challenges that we cannot overcome, but they are challenges.

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the Minister’s response. Bisley is a world-renowned championship venue for many events. The skeletal frame is in place, but if some edges need to be sharpened—if accommodation needs to be arranged and some other small things need to be done—that is not impossible. It is an acceptable venue, and a wee bit more effort would make it conform to all requirements. Surely we should do our best to make that happen.

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman or with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries and Galloway, but there are logistical and cost challenges. They are not necessarily ones that we cannot overcome, and both Members are right to place their points on the record, to ensure that anyone reading this debate, particularly from the Commonwealth Games Federation, understands that there is a real desire to support everybody in overcoming the challenges.

I thank the Minister for her detailed response. The point about the accommodation could be a spurious argument from the games organisers, because the athletes competing in the other sports that replace shooting will still need accommodation. Whether that is near Bisley or Birmingham, there is still a cost. There may be an opportunity cost, but it is not a saving in real terms.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We can further discuss the assumptions in his point after the debate.

In selecting optional sports, the games partners have to take into account the four considerations I just outlined, while complying with the athlete and team official quota restrictions set by the Commonwealth Games Federation, which is one of the assumptions my hon. Friend alluded to. The games partners have developed a sport programme that includes 3x3 basketball and 3x3 para-basketball, track cycling and para-track cycling, mountain biking, diving, rhythmic gymnastics and para-triathlon.

I will have to disagree slightly with my hon. Friend about the value of some of those optional sports, which are popular within particular communities that we are trying to engage in sport. In looking at an overall sporting programme, we must ensure that we are inspiring a large number of people across all sectors of society. More than 2 million people in the UK regularly participate in the sports I just listed, and the home nations collected 37 medals from those events on the Gold Coast.

I do, however, understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I sympathise with his position. Shooting’s popularity across the Commonwealth nations and territories, from the largest nation to the smallest, is enormous, and the home nations have had a particularly strong track record at previous games.

In recognition of that and of the value that shooting brings to the games, the Secretary of State and I are exploring with games partners the potential for including shooting in the sport programme. However, I stress that that decision is beyond our remit, and we have an enormous challenge, in that Birmingham was awarded the games with just 4.5 years to deliver, rather than the usual seven years. While I have no doubt that the city will deliver an outstanding event, despite that timeframe, a number of practical considerations must be taken into account to ensure that the games are delivered successfully. While planning for the games continues, we continue to invest in shooting and its athletes’ medal-winning aspirations. Colleagues will be pleased to hear that UK Sport is providing £6.9 million of funding for the Tokyo 2020 shooting performance cycle and £2.5 million for para-shooting.

The Government support the notion of shooting being included, and will work with partners to overcome logistical challenges, if required. We will continue to work with games partners. In the meantime, I am sure my hon. Friend and others will join me in supporting all those involved to ensure the delivery of a fantastic Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth games.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.