SINGAPORE — The Republic’s medal hopes in shooting at August’s South-east Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur have been hit by a double blow even before the first shot has been fired at the National Shooting Range in Subang.
Games hosts Malaysia have reduced the number of shooting events from 26 to 14. All seven team events have also been omitted from the schedule, prompting members of the South-east Asian Shooting Association to lodge an appeal with the Games organisers.
The omission of the team events will have a significant impact on Singapore’s golden hopes, judging from how the Republic fared at the last SEA Games and South-east Asian Championships.
At the 2015 Games, which Singapore hosted, the national team claimed five gold medals, including three team titles in the men’s 50m pistol, men’s trap and women’s 10m air rifle.
Likewise, at the recently concluded South-east Asian Shooting Championships, Singapore’s six golds included three in team events — the men’s and women’s 10m air rifle, and the women’s rifle 50m Three Positions (3P).
Singapore’s medal chances at the 2017 SEA Games have also been hit by another road block: The lack of training facilities for its developmental and junior athletes.
The National Shooting Centre (NSC) at Old Choa Chu Kang Road has been closed since February last year after the police seized firearms from the Singapore Gun Club and Singapore Rifle Association because of serious licensing irregularities.
In February, the police ordered both clubs to remove about 70 firearms from the armouries at the NSC after a review of the firearms and ammunition allowed for use in Singapore, including sports shooting.
According to Singapore Shooting Association (SSA) president Michael Vaz, national athletes and Singapore Sports School student-athletes are allowed access to the facility, but those from the SSA’s Learn to Shoot programmes and other schools are not able to practise at the range.
The NSC is the only public facility that allows for shotgun and pistol shooting. Air rifle and air pistol shooters have not been affected, as they can still train at the Safra Yishun shooting range.
No date has been set for the reopening of the NSC, and Vaz said: “Our junior programme has collapsed, and our plans have stalled. We had several people training for shotgun. Our Learn to Shoot programme for pistol, shotgun and rifle has stalled because of the investigations.
“This is a real tragedy.”
As a result, the SSA has not been able to groom and train new talents for its skeet and trap teams for the 2017 SEA Games.
While its provisional squad for the women’s air rifle team includes 15-year-old teenagers such as Fernel Tan, Nurul Syafiqa Nassaruddin and Hazel Ho, the men’s skeet and trap team comprise familiar faces such as veterans Choo Choon Seng and Mohd Zain Amat — aged 45 and 41, respectively — who have won multiple medals at the regional Games since 2005, and also competed at the 2015 Games.
Plans for a new S$6 million, 60-lane shooting range at Old Choa Chu Kang Road have also stalled as a result of the NSC closure.
Vaz added: “With the closure of the ranges since February 2016, no shooter with any aspirations to represent Singapore in the 2017 SEA Games or the 2020 Olympics in shotgun or small bore has been able to access the ranges to train till this day ... hence (we are likely to see) no new shooters for probably two years before the range is finally reopened.”
However, Vaz said that the SSA is planning to make up for lost time when the range eventually reopens.
SSA are aiming to work with Singapore Gun Club and Sport Singapore on its shotgun junior programme, with the target of reaching 50 to 80 student-athletes in its first year, and grooming a team of 25 for the development squad.
There are also plans to convert air weapon shooters to other events such as pistol, rifle and shotgun.
Said Vaz: “They have the basics from air events thus it is a fast track to a credible small bore team.
“We also want to include students in schools which do not have a shooting programme.”