Vic Harker talks to a panel of World Champions about the state of FITASC Sporting and their thoughts on changing the rules
It’s my view that Great Britain’s dominance in international FITASC Sporting will diminish in the near future as the rules and format of English Sporting move ever further away from the original game.
The success of the British Sporting shooters over the past 40 years was based on an inherited culture of game and pigeon shooting, which Sporting clays replicated. From 1968, when FITASC Sporting formed a code for Sporting as an international discipline and the first European Championship was organised, British shooters consistently won along with the World Championships that followed. Significantly the big prizes were not taken by just one man; Britain had a depth of talent that no other country could match.
In recent years, however, English Sporting has changed; most significantly the gun-down rule has been relaxed. This may not affect the current generation of Britain’s top shooters, but what of those who will eventually succeed them and will not have developed the gun handling skills that allow them to switch seamlessly to FITASC as their predecessors did?
In the only truly international form of Sporting – FITASC – we are already not as dominant as we once were. Is this because our domestic discipline is now too dissimilar to the international game and we are not fostering the gun handling skills required at the grass roots of Sporting in the way we once did?
Great Britain’s lack of success in the Olympic disciplines of Trap and Skeet is due to our domestic equivalents attracting the greatest participation but not developing the level of skill required to move on to the international disciplines. Are we to eventually see the UK’s position in international Sporting become the same?
The other threat to British supremacy in Sporting comes from across the Atlantic. English Sporting clays became popular in the USA with the help of leading British shooters who travelled there to coach. Now, having wholeheartedly embraced the game, the Americans have adapted it to suit them.
A nation of riflemen rather than shotgunners, and without the same background of game shooting the British have, they turned Sporting into a gun-up game and the British have subsequently followed suit.
To a large degree this reduces the advantages the British had over other countries. To continue down this road will result in our decline as the best Sporting shots in the world and those who have changed the game we invented to their advantage, will dominate.
These are my considered opinions but what are they worth? I care about British Sporting because it’s the form of clay target shooting the British are best at and enjoy the most success at and I want it to stay that way.
I am not, however, a Sporting shot in any serious sense; so I invited four people who are not only that but also very good Sporting shots to put forward their thoughts.
I put six questions to my panel of four World Champions: Ben Husthwaite, John Bidwell, George Digweed and Barry Simpson.
Should the compulsory gun-down rule, as it’s applied to FITASC Sporting, be reintroduced into English Sporting?
John Bidwell agreed the gun-down rule should be reintroduced, although from the tone of his other responses he clearly doesn’t think it as important as I do.
George Digweed said: “I want the gun-up option retained, that’s the way I learnt to shoot Sporting.”
Ben Husthwaite did not want the rule revised either; “it will make the sport less accessible to newcomers” he said.
Surprisingly, as an advocate and practitioner of gun-down only shooting, Barry Simpson agreed with Ben: “If we reintroduce the gun-down rule, I could see a lot of people not being able to shoot and we could well lose them from the sport” he said.
English Sporting has long since ceased to represent the flight of game birds as the British originally intended. Nowadays almost anything goes. Would you like rules introduced to specify distances, heights and angles?
Though the question of how Sporting targets are presented is an ongoing course of controversy, in the end nobody wanted any rules or regulations introduced as to how they should be.
George Digweed was firm in his answer: “I prefer to leave it to the course builder”, and Barry Simpson agreed saying “give the course designer a free hand.”
Ben Husthwaite suggested that the rules be structured to encourage a range of levels of difficulty in the targets.
John Bidwell said: “when I set up a course I think it’s important to provide a wide variety of height, speed, angle and direction which is more important than just distance.” He added: “very long targets are too easily affected by the weather”, but he did not feel the need to formalise this into a set of rules.
Guns are getting longer and bigger, with specifications which more and more compel the shooter to adopt a pre-mounted gun technique Would you welcome rules that limit gun weight, barrel length and the number of chokes that can be used?
Again, nobody was interested in introducing rules regulating the kinds of guns used for Sporting.
Ben Husthwaite: “Anything goes; I would use any kind of gun that helps me shoot better.”
George Digweed: “I have no problem with any kind of gun. The trade has to produce all these different things to sell extra guns and make money.”
Barry Simpson: “I’d let shooters have the guns they want.”
John Bidwell: “No you can’t legislate on gun specifications, the game itself will determine what’s most suitable and everyone should be free to make an individual choice.”
If Sporting clays in the UK and elsewhere continues to evolve away from the original game as conceived in the UK, do you think British shooters will lose their dominance over world class events?
Ben Husthwaite: “We’ve lost our dominance already because the British don’t train on the right targets. In the UK, shooters want to shoot long targets, but when you go abroad shooters are presented with different targets.”
George Digweed: “We’ve lost our dominance already: participation is growing fast in other countries and likewise their skills.”
Barry Simpson: “We are still the best in the world by a long way, but we don’t win the major competitions in the way we used to because some of our best shots don’t shoot in the national teams.”
John Bidwell: “Whatever the rules, the British will adapt. As to the gun-up rule shooters will find it’s not always an advantage and in some cases it just doesn’t work. We still have a depth of talent that will keep the UK on top for a long time.”
As the USA will almost certainly have the greatest number of Sporting shooters in the future, would you like a common code of rules introduced to cover both British and US competitions, for example shot load, gun hold and so on?
Ben Husthwaite said: “The American rules are better than ours”.
George Digweed was particularly sanguine about having both American and British rules. “When in Rome” he said, or in other words “I go along with the local rules when in the USA”.
Barry Simpson thinks the 28gram shot load should be standardised for both codes.
John Bidwell said: “I cannot see it being possible to enforce a gun-down rule on American shooters. In any case there is no advantage in shooting gun-up most of
Can you suggest any rules that you would either like to change or introduce for English Sporting and FITASC?
Barry Simpson: “I would like a rule change for simultaneous pairs that applies to both English and FITASC Sporting. At the moment if one target is broken as it leaves the trap and you hit the other, nothing is won. I would like the target you hit to stand and you just have to re-shoot the no-bird rather than the pair.”
George Digweed: “When shooting English Sporting in the USA I would like to see the final shot over English rules as opposed to what is called Super Sporting.”
Ben Husthwaite: “For English Sporting I would like a dress code enforced; as long as people keep turning up looking like Farmer Giles we will never get any media attention. Secondly, at the FITASC World Championships I would like to see the top six shooters from the previous year form a special squad so that they can see there has been no cheating.”
John Bidwell: “In English Sporting the first man should be allowed to view the target from where he is going to shoot it and for FITASC I would like to change the title of Super Vet to Master”.
I would add here that I did suggest to John while the title might apply to him, what about the old and completely hopeless? I proposed perhaps Old Master might be more suitable or even Awkward Old, but he didn’t like that either.
To summarise, I would suggest the opinions expressed by our panel of World Champions demonstrates a pragmatism as regards the current situation and a degree of self interest that is inevitably part of everyone’s opinion.
As for my cunning scheme to rig the rules of Sporting to suit the British, that was, I feel, convincingly shot down by people who have a greater experience of the sport than I do. So then are our panel of champions going to have the last word on the matter or do you have some other ideas?
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