The Daily Telegraph Tuesday 1 September 2020 *** 12 By Fiona Tomas Hitting the target: Ruth Mwandumba excels in a sport where rifles cost up to £7,000 “When I drive to competitions, I always make sure I’m wearing British Shooting clothing,” she says. “It wouldn’t look good if I was stopped by the police and they discovered a load of guns in the back. It’s crazy that I have to do it. Obviously, I always carry my firearms licence with me, but it’s almost as if I’m preparing myself for the day it happens. It doesn’t help that I have a big car, but shooting gear does take up a lot of space.” It is common to find target shooters competing at Olympic Games in their fifties and sixties and, in that sense, time is on 25-year-old Mwandumba’s side – not just in the pursuit of an Olympic medal, but to Ruth Mwandumba is a rare sight in the white-dominated sport of target shooting and is aiming for the 2024 Olympics R uth Mwandumba first realised she had a good aim at the age of 13 when she was at an Army cadet camp. She distinctly remembers grappling with a “really old” rifle, which piqued her interest so much that three years later she was still begging her parents to let her join a target shooting club. “If you’re under 18, you need a parent or guardian to join with you,” Mwandumba says. “My dad travelled a lot for work and my mum was super busy at the time, so I didn’t have anyone to take me which, for me, was super frustrating. I was so eager.” Such was Mwandumba’s enthusiasm upon belatedly discovering shooting was an Olympic sport that it dictated her university choice. Soon after enrolling at the University of East London, she became a regular at the Stock Exchange Rifle Club, a 117-year-old shooting range under London Bridge. Within just seven months of graduating, she was crowned English champion, aged 22, and now has her sights set on the Paris 2024 Olympics. It is only in light of the recent attention drawn to racism across sport and society that the magnitude of her achievement has dawned on Mwandumba, believed to be the only black competitive target shooter in the UK, who grew numb to years of throwaway comments during her university years. “When I tell people I do shooting as a sport, there’s always this shock factor,” Mwandumba says. “People would say, ‘Of course you shoot, you’re black’. I used to shrug it off as banter, but I’m kind of hesitant to tell people now. I’ve grown so used to the reaction, it’s exhausting.” ‘People would say, ‘Of course you shoot, you’re black’. I’ve grown so used to the reaction’ Interview drive change in her overtly white, elitist sport, where competition rifles can cost up to £7,000. Her PhD in epidemiology that she is due to start later this month, with the world still in the clutches of the coronavirus pandemic, is equally timely. Mwandumba, who receives a grant from the sports funding charity SportsAid, points to simple solutions which, if implemented with a greater recreational focus, could go a long way towards opening up the sport to disadvantaged communities. “Most shooting clubs will let people borrow their equipment and kit,” says Mwandumba, who was lent an electronic training system by English Shooting so that she could continue to practise during the lockdown. “I want to leave the sport knowing I’ve done everything I can to include more black people. I’ve always said it’s nothing to do with the fact that other races and ethnicities aren’t welcome, it’s just something you don’t see.” ‘I drive in British Shooting kit in case I get stopped by police’ Despite her sport’s stark whiteness, Mwandumba, who was raised in Crosby, Merseyside, by Malawi parents, maintains that it has been accommodating. “Shooting is one of those sports where everyone is super friendly,” she says. “Everyone was really welcoming when I first joined. But one of the issues, it was kind of a selfinternal battle that I had, was how I noticed that I was different.” She has painful recollections of channelling such emotions at an event in Luxembourg in 2018, when she was competing alongside a group of Norwegian women who started making comments about her. “I just felt uncomfortable,” Mwandumba says. “It was new to everyone, seeing a black athlete competing on the international scene. They were just so shocked to see a black person shooting competitively, because it’s not really a thing. It affected me. I didn’t shoot well because it was on my mind.” She has taken heart from the recent black activism shown by sportswomen, including tennis player Naomi Osaka’s boycotting of her semi-final at the Western and Southern Open in New York last week after Jacob Blake, a black man, was left paralysed after being shot seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Events closer to home, such as the police stop-and-search of British sprinter Bianca Williams in July, and Labour MP Dawn Butler last month – both of whom accused police officers of racial profiling – have intensified one of Mwandumba’s greatest fears.
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