Our Sporting Lives with David Calvert: Gun crime and terrorism has fuelled prejudice against shooting as a sport
NI’s most decorated Commonwealth Games competitor, airman David Calvert, on how he plans to be still flying high at 75, despite perceptions he feels are unfair to his passion.
Forty years on from his first Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, full-bore shooter David Calvert still believes he will be competing in the 2026 Games, by which time he will have reached the age of 75.
Competing in the Gold Coast Games this month brought him to 11 appearances in the event for Northern Ireland, more than any other competitors and over half the amount of Games themselves.
“It is all a bit amusing,” he says from his home just a few miles outside Cambridge.
“I’m very lucky to have had the chance to take part. I have been lucky to contest at a high level to enable selection and get involved in the Commonwealth Games because they are great sporting occasions.
“Our sport of full-bore rifle shooting isn’t in the Olympics, so the Commonwealth Games are the highest sporting level you can aspire to. So to be able to do that as part of a Northern Ireland team is a privilege and it is a lot of fun.”
He is, by some stretch, the most decorated Commonwealth Games competitor for Northern Ireland with eight medals, four of them Gold over the course of 40 years.
Growing up in east Belfast at the bottom of the Craigantlet Hill, he left in 1969 to go to Southampton for university flying training and began a long career with the Royal Air Force. Even now, he is a member of the reserves with Cambridge University Air Squad, where he does some instructional flying work.
It led to a busy life and in order to compete at shooting, he would use his holiday time and bring along wife Barbara from Cookstown, and children Peter (an accountant) and daughter Anna (who works in advertising) along with him to competitions around the world.
What saddens him, however, is how the next host of the games, Birmingham having taken it over at short notice from Durban in South Africa, will not feature shooting — thereby denying him a chance to continue his run to a dozen games.
“Because they took it on at relative short notice, they didn’t have to go through all the normal protocols and the agreement of the plan with all the competing nations that would normally happen. They had a lot more freedom to decide which sports they wanted and what they didn’t,” he explains.
“For reasons you would have to speak to them about, they decided not to have the shooting sports. I think one of the reasons they quoted was the lack of a convenient venue and yet in the Manchester Games in 2002, they used the National Shooting Complex in Bisley (Surrey), which worked well. That was further away from Manchester than it would have been from Birmingham.”
He also forwards a theory about how guns and shooting are seen in the modern age, stating, “There may be a subconscious prejudice at play”.
“People get confused between the crime on the streets and terrorism, and the completely separate issue of sporting disciplines; the Commonwealth Games, the Olympics and National competitions.
“Because of the very strict rules and regulations, the people who take part in these sports and bear firearms, by necessity have to be some of the most law-abiding people in the country because of the constraints and restrictions they have.”
Despite that, he has not given up hope that Birmingham may reverse their decision. There is intensive lobbying going on behind the scenes and they are hoping for a resolution.
If it doesn’t, he has no plans to give up.
“I’m still hoping it might be possible to get shooting installed in the Games in Birmingham. We are still looking for that to happen and if it doesn’t, I will be looking ahead to the Games in 2026 and I’m hopeful shooting will be in those games. I will put my name forward and will fight for selection along with everybody else.”
Far from seeing the Games this month as an end, Calvert has a sporting and travel schedule that would make most men of his age wince.
“I am not finishing up,” he laughs.
“Personally, I would be very heavily committed, particularly over the next 12 months to International competition.
“I’m captain of the Great Britain team to go to the World Championships in January and February of next year so that is a big commitment and I’m involved in the selection and the training of the team in the last two or three years and the build up is going to be busy as well.
“That is a major commitment, and while I will be overseeing and captaining the team, I will be taking part in the individual championships.
“I’m a member of a Great Britain team that is travelling to Canada in August. So that, along with our own National Championships in July over in Bisley, which members of the Northern Ireland team in the full bore will be competing.
“I will be doing all that and into the future, I don’t plan to give up at all.”
Prior to the Games, he was in South Africa in March for a training camp ahead of their Championships. Even going back to January/February time, he was competing in an event in New Zealand.
It was huge preparation to put in for the games and he admits his disappointment at not succeeding.
“We were very close,” he sighs.
“It was frustrating not to have got a medal this time because we were well prepared and in my assessment, I felt we had a 50-50 chance. It would have been nice to get one, yet we shouldn’t be too disappointed, it went well, we came close and it just didn’t happen.”
All this, despite his sight deteriorating over the last number of years. And then there is the theory advanced by Steve Davis that as you get older in aim-based disciplines, your nerve starts to go.
It’s a thought that is rejected by Calvert who states: “If anything, for me, it is the other way around. As you get more experience of competing at a high level, then the pressure that can affect your performance is easier to handle.
“The pressure of competition and the need to succeed and not succeeding, that in itself is a distraction to your performance. With experience and time and exposure to competition, it becomes easier to cope with that distraction and therefore rather than it becoming more of a problem, that aspect becomes less of a problem.”
He adds: “When you come in as a youngster, nobody expects you to perform.
“They might hope for it and they might think you have the potential.
“Once you have achieved success and you are at the top, then people, your colleagues and peers have seen you perform at a high level and they expect you to stay there so there is more pressure on you to do so.
“It becomes more difficult to meet up to those expectations as they are much higher than when you come in at a young age.”
So on and on he goes. A natural phenomenon.