Back in the days when Fleet Street was the home of the press rather than a metaphor for national print media generally, anyone venturing the cliched opinion that ‘all publicity is good publicity’, would be met with howls of derision and a likely chorus of: “Yeah, just ask Michael Barrymore”. Generally speaking, the value of publicity is highly overrated and given the now sheer breadth of media for its distribution much devalued. This doesn’t stop reality TV stars and other wannabees from investing much time and energy pouting into every available lens, but for those with a serious ambition to promote their cause the transient nature of any coverage is no substitute for grass roots effort. Nowhere can this be seen better than in the optimism with which shooting sports greet the Olympics. Anyone bothering to thumb through the pages of the shooting magazines for the years 2016, 2012, 2008 and a whole bunch of quadrennial intervals before then, will lapse into a coma quite quickly as they labour through articles and items hailing the anticipated boom in interest likely to accrue as a result of TV and other exposure of the various shooting disciplines. And, true to form, this year is no exception.
None of this to argue that shooting does not deserve the coverage it gets nor that such exposure does not positively impact upon public attitudes to the sport. What it does argue is that public interest is fleeting and that in the long term what gains there are dissolve quickly. Recent articles have suggested that shooting benefited from the positive coverage it had received at the time of 2016 Olympics, but what beyond more column inches and a greater airtime did that benefit add up to? By the only important measure, that is to say growth in the numbers of those taking up shooting, the answer would appear to be not much. For whilst the numbers of certificates held is greater now than it was five years ago, the difference is marginal, and indications are that shooters are shooting less with each passing year. And who could be surprised at that?
The obstacles placed in the way of shooting grow with each year that passes. Restrictions and bans put in place by councils desperate to show that they’re doing something; obstructive and slow licencing authorities, misinformed and misguided public sentiment and the escalating costs associated with running shoots. All of those and more militate against the shooting sports. And perhaps saddest of all is that the fracturing of the family unit by separation and divorce breaks the chain by which the habit of shooting is passed down the generations.
This may seem like a counsel of despair. It isn’t, because the obverse side of this particular coin shows a sport which whilst it may be as many are, in decline, by comparison is managing that decline brilliantly well. And that’s down to the grass roots efforts of the shooting bodies and businesses, to the promotion of the sport by word of mouth and the sheer bloody minded determination of shooters to defend and continue with their discipline.