The Exclusion Games

Inclusivity: Many of the poorer nations compete and win at shooting

Shooting sports was forced to yield last week. For all its articulacy in making its case, it had no defence against one of modern life’s killer words. These words are the shock troops deployed by one side, often when its losing the argument. These words automatically invest those using them with a smug virtuousness, signalling their apparent desire to embrace those who have been left out or shunned or in some other way not allowed to join the party. Thereafter any attempt by the other side to continue making its case is undermined because according to its logic in doing so one proceeds from a morally redundant position. And so when the organisers of the Birmingham Commonwealth games, besieged by the lack of a convincing argument for omitting shooting sports from the 2022 event, were required to explain themselves they reached into their by then threadbare armoury and decided to unleash, appropriately enough, the game changer; the Night’s King of the lexicon; the word before which politicians crumble. Inclusiveness.

In fairness to Birmingham it has been trumpeting the word inclusiveness from the get go. Indeed, reading some of the statements made by those involved in organising the event, you could be forgiven for wondering if their aims are rather less to produce a spectacle of sporting competition and rather more to preside over the world’s largest festival of mindfulness. Whatever the case, the decision to leave out shooting stinks and what makes it smell is not the way in which the initial reasons for excluding it were so easily and quickly dismantled, but the very real sense that it never stood a chance in the first place. And here’s why.

If you were to bring a cross section of the public together and then pick from them those whose daily round includes the promotion of inclusivity, diversity and multiculturalism (all words much employed by the Birmingham games team), you could probably make a number of statements about them with a fair degree of accuracy. For example, they probably don’t support Brexit, they are from the left of the political spectrum, they tend toward working in public service or the arts. And, in this case, where not downright opposed, they are ambivalent about shooting sports and gun ownership. That is not to say of course that there aren’t shooters who are left wing social workers involved in the arts or that shooters don’t support the aims of inclusivity, diversity and multi-culturalism, but words and the way we use them tend to say much about us and right from the beginning the language of the organisers carried with it this unarticulated bias against shooting.

The worst part of this is that shooting is a hugely inclusive sport. Long before the age of wheelchair basketball or Paralympic table tennis, it led the way in encouraging participation among the disabled. Women have been shooting at all levels for years. And trumping all this is its global reach, because to get started and achieve a decent level of proficiency at shooting does not require great cost hence the number of nations, many of them very poor, that take part. If the organisers were truly sincere about wanting to have as many people involved from as many nations as possible, it should get rid of swimming, where games after games the medals are divided up between the same old handful of wealthy nations.

That’s not going to happen of course. The Birmingham games will no doubt be a celebration of sporting endeavour and shooting sports will be left to contemplate the irony that in realising the aim of inclusivity it had to be excluded.

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