Alastair Haley

Back in 2020, around 100 hopefuls submitted an application to be a part of the 2023 Palma Squad, with a pre-tour in 2022. One global pandemic later, and the schedule slipping by a year, today marks 883 days since the 4th October 2020 when the initial squad was selected. This is the day we’ve all had circled in our calendars for a very, very long time.

With great anticipation and excitement, the team met in the SRA at Bisley for final packing for our flight to South Africa in the evening. Scenes of apparent chaos belied the strict precision of the packing team, who were busy maximising every kg of our baggage allowances. Weighing, repacking, and re-weighing 61 bags to make best use of our allowance, and to get about 1800kg of equipment and personal luggage allocated efficiently.

Around 4pm, the advance party left for Heathrow Airport with all rifles to begin the arduous form filling and by the time the rest of the team arrived an hour later, the path had been smoothed to allow a quicker-than-usual checkin. Special mentions are needed to Kevin from Virgin who helped smooth this process and speed us through the Upper Class security channel. At least as far as customs, where we spent 90 minutes waiting for our rifles to be x-rayed. Thankfully some rather rapid checking of serial numbers by the customs staff allowed us to make the dash for the gate and board just in time for the flight to depart on time.

However, six of the team were already in Africa, having been members of the England Rifle Team for the Kenya leg of their tour. Whilst the majority of the team were sound asleep in their homes the night before departure, these six set off at 11.30pm from Nanyuki after a reception hosted by the Kenyan Sports Shooting Federation and arriving a full 4 hours before checkin for their flight to Johannesburg. Despite the assistance of Inspector Sanford Otundu (Kenyan team captain) the full 4 hours was required to get the team and rifles onboard. A smooth flight was followed by the essential paperwork that importing firearms and hiring cars requires before finally the England team (including the 6 GB team members) set off on convoy on the 4hr drive to Bloemfontein.

Finally, after 22 hours travelling and some 39 hours without proper sleep the 6 arrived at the hotel in Bloemfontein just as the rest of the team were battling with check in in the UK and the entire team is eagerly awaiting the point when we are all united.