Archers from tribal areas making a splash (Feature)

January 21st, 2009 - 3:52 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 21 (IANS) Archery was known to be a popular sport in ancient times in India, as well as the main battle weapon. But India’s modern day archers still have a fair distance to go to gain international reckoning. However, the sport is on the upswing in the country with more and more talented youngsters, particularly from the tribal areas, trying to make a mark internationally.

Young archers are bucking up as was evident in the recent junior national event here which in the past has thrown up national stars, especially from tribal areas of Jharkhand and the northeastern states.

Mangal Singh Champia, Tarundeep Rai, Bombayla Devi, Pratima Boro, Chekrovlu Swuro, Sumanlata Murmu, Jhanu Hansda, who hail from these areas, have stood up against the mighty Koreans and Chinese in international tournaments. India finished second at the 2005 World Championship and are the reigning men’s Asian Champions.

India have matched the best in business in recent years in World Cups, but success at the bigger stage like the Olympics is yet to come. Limba Ram at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Satyadev Yadav in Athens Games were tipped to win medals but returned empty-handed. World champion Dola Banerjee and Champia added their names to that list in Beijing this year.

Part of the reason for the stage fright in bigger events is the archers’ background. Most of them are tribals, hailing from far-flung areas. They hone their skills on traditional bamboo bows and arrows and switch to modern gear only when they get to the international level. Importantly, almost all of them take to sport to secure a job and once they get used to the small pleasures of life, their focus shifts from the sport.

Archery Association of India (AAI) general secretary Paresh Nath Mukherjee calls it a “socio-economic problem.”

“Fifty percent of our talented archers are from tribal areas and the sudden lifestyle changes do affect them. The expectations rise as they perform well at the international level and that proves to be counter-productive, making them complacent,” Mukherjee told IANS.

To overcome the stage fright and give them a more competitive edge, AAI introduced prize money ranking tournaments after Athens. It proved productive and since then India have bagged a handful of medals at the international level.

One of India’s all-time best archers Dola says that the prize money tournaments have motivated the archers.

“We are doing well at international meets in the last three-four years. One of the reasons we did well in that period was because these tournaments motivated us to perform because the tournaments offered good money and were competitive,” she says.

The Jamshedpur archer, however, points out that long term planning is needed to get consistent results in major international events like the Olympics. “You cannot win an Olympic medal by winning one or two world events. There should be long-term planning. See how Korea and China, the top nations in the sport, plan for four years,” says Dola.

Dola laments that like other Olympic sports in India, funds and sponsors have been a problem for the archers too. “Money is very important. Most of the archers are from humble tribal families and it is not possible for them to fund the costly equipment,” Dola told IANS.

For starters, a bow can cost Rs.8,000 and a top quality bow can cost up to Rs.200,000. The arrows also need to be changed regularly.

Dola says that in the last two years the number of prize money tournaments has gone down. “In 2003-04, there were six prize money tournaments. But slowly the money got reduced and last year there was only one tournament. Earlier, the winner used to get Rs.25,000 and now it is Rs.7,000-10,000. Now it has been reduced to just selection trials.”

The AAI, though, has a different take on the dwindling number of domestic tournaments.

“The number of international tournaments has gone up. There is no point in holding more tournaments at home when top archers are away competing elsewhere in the world. We will have rankings tournaments this year looking at the international calendar,” says Mukherjee.

The international archery calendar is packed with events for 10 months and there are any number of events in the region, including the five Asian Grand Prix competitions, the third of which is in India in May.

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