Administrative mess in Indian archery leaves competitors in the lurch

Tushar Bhaduri
Country's top-ranked compound archer Abhishek Verma is one of those who have suffered. (File)

The newly-elected office-bearers of the Archery Association of India (AAI) had scheduled their first coaching camp from Tuesday, but the day came and went with the archers none the wiser about its date or venue.

The tug of war between AAI and World Archery on one hand, and between AAI and the Indian Olympic Association as well as the government at home seems to have left the competitors a frustrated lot. "We have no idea about the camp or the detailed schedule of domestic or international events in such a crucial year," the country’s top-ranked compound archer Abhishek Verma said.

The new AAI body did hold open selection trials in Rohtak for the World Cups and World Championships last month, from which the top 16 archers in each category would have attended the coaching camp.

"The date (for the camp) had been fixed, but it has been delayed. We have been told that it would start later this week at either Kolkata or Pune," another archer said.

When one clicks on the link ‘calendar’ on the AAI website, what appears is the 2017 schedule.

The association, on its part, attributes the delay to the change in regime.

"The annual calendar for training and competition (ACTC), which was submitted to the Sports Authority of India by the previous regime, had submitted a plan with eight archers in each category (men’s and women’s recurve and compound), but the new dispensation had forwarded 16 names in each after the preliminary trials. The difference in budgeting and other administrative aspects have caused the delay," AAI assistant secretary Gunjan Abrol said.

"It has now been decided that the coaching camps will commence on February 10 with just eight archers in each category. The recurve archers will assemble at Army Sports Institute, Pune while the compound archers will be at the SAI centre in Sonepat."

But while the original schedule had the camp running for more than a month (till the senior national championship in Cuttack starting March 9, as of now), now it will do so for only 20 days, Abrol said.

The new AAI constitution, according to which the polls were conducted in December in which BVP Rao was elected president, along with other office-bearers, was objected to by the world body, the sports ministry and IOA. The matter is in court and while World Archery has allowed Indians to compete internationally till the final verdict, the government and IOA are not ready to budge, claiming the AAI constitution does not adhere to the 2011 Sports Code.

In a year when archers would aim to seal berths for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, such a logjam is anything but ideal.

"The top archers from other countries often compete in as many as 20 events in a year. We, on the other hand, often have to make do with four. In such a case, how are we expected to maintain our rankings, gain exposure and confidence, or prepare for the biggest tournaments by testing ourselves against the best," Verma said. "We need to get our act together at such a crucial time, but seem to be taking everything so lightly."

With the South Asian Games, which were scheduled in Nepal from March 9, postponed, the first international competition for Indian archers is the Asian championship in Bangkok, an event which was earlier to be hosted by India before it was taken away owing to the administrative standoff.

However, AAI has decided to send junior archers to the Thai capital, with no international competition for the seniors till the World Cup cycle.

"If they are not going to send the seniors to the Asia Cup and deny them much-needed international competition, they might as well send the juniors to the World Championships and the Olympics as well. After not providing us exposure, how can they expect us to win medals!" Verma added.

Abrol said the first international tournament for the seniors will be the World Cup-Stage I in Shanghai in April. A cursory glance at the World Archery website informs that the first stage in April (22-28) is actually being held in Medellin, Colombia, with the second one in Shanghai to be staged a week later.

The World Championships at ‘S-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands in June has to be the biggest target, for the recurve archers at least, as it is the first and biggest qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics.

The trials for the World Championships and the four World Cups are scheduled to be held immediately after the Senior Nationals next month.