Suspension, internal mudslinging and factionalism overshadowed some stellar performances by Indian archers as the sport went from bad to worse with just a few months left for Tokyo Olympics in an eventful 2019.
The biggest blow to Indian archery came in August when World Archery suspended the national federation after two warring groups conducted parallel elections in Delhi and Chandigarh in a clear defiance of the international body’s guidelines.
The suspension meant that a rich medal haul of one gold, two silver and four bronze at the Bangkok Asian Championships went unrecognised and the archers were forced to compete as neutral athletes under World Archery.
The Indians proved themselves to be a strong force, second only to the Koreans in Asia, when Abhishek Verma and Jyothi Surekha Vennam denied their mighty opponents a clean sweep en route the compound mixed pair gold.
But there was little sense of pride on the podium as neither the Tricolour went up nor the National Anthem played and the duo was introduced as “Olympic athletes”.
“It’s a sad feeling that left even our competitors surprised. We are helpless… I want to request everybody to get this fight over and done with because it’s us the archers, who are suffering,” Verma had said after the win.
In fact, the Indians were allowed to compete in Bangkok only because it was a Continental Olympic Qualifier where the country’s top woman archer Deepika Kumari grabbed an individual quota for Tokyo after the team failed to book the berths from World Championships.
The suspension also robbed India of an entry at the South Asian Games in Nepal, which helped Bangladesh grab all the 10 gold medals on offer in the absence of the defending champions, who had made a clean sweep in the 2016 edition in Guwahati-Shillong.
The out-of-favour men’s team, which missed booking a berth for Rio Olympics 2016, defied all odds to secure the first Tokyo 2020 quota for India through the trio of Tarundeep Rai, Atanu Das and Pravin Jadhav in the World Championships at Den Bosch.
At Rio 2016, India had an individual entry in Das, who had made a last-16 exit.
Continuing the resurgence, the trio also stormed into the World Championships final after a gap of 14 years before settling for a silver.
On the sidelines of the premier biennial championship, the World Archery’s 15-member executive board, headed by Prof Dr Ugur Erdener, passed a resolution to suspend the Archery Association of India, which was announced after a month.
The AAI had to find a solution by the end of July as per the deadline set by WA’s executive board and since no progress was made, the world governing body had to pass the ruling.
However, the archers remained unfazed by the administrative mess and signed off with one silver and two bronze medals, in the women’s compound team and individual events.
With no end to factionalism between the two groups led by VK Malhotra and BVP Rao, the World Archery sent its representative, Kazi Rajib Uddin Ahmed Chapol, as a mediator.
But the two factions did not budge and elected two presidents — Union Minister Arjun Munda and Rao — in two separate elections in New Delhi and Chandigarh respectively on June 9. As a result, the suspension was just a matter of time.
The matter is currently sub-judice in the Delhi High Court and elections are likely in January. In the meantime, whether the archers represent India at the upcoming Olympics remains a matter of speculation.
“India are a powerhouse in archery. But we had to abide by the guidelines and they were denied participation at the South Asian Games. We hope the association is reinstated before the Olympics. The World Archery is keeping a close watch,” Chapol, who is also the secretary general of the Bangladesh federation, told PTI.
A retired IAS officer, Rao, was elected president bringing an end of a 40-year era of Vijay Kumar Malhotra, in controversial polls held under a High Court-appointed administrator in December 2018.
But Rao resigned within five months after the Supreme Court set aside the constitution of the association as amended by S Y Quraishi, the Delhi High Court-appointed administrator.
The AAI, under Rao, had copped a lot of criticism for “poor planning” as Indian archers failed to participate in the season-opening stage one World Cup in Medellin in April due to a delay in flight from New Delhi.
A blame game ensued between the AAI, the sports Ministry and the Indian Olympic Association.
The AAI also drew criticism for picking a dope-tainted archer for the stage two of the World Cup. Some archers had also claimed that the selection of the coach had discrepancies.
Among other notable performances, Deepika had a dream campaign before stumbling to 18-year-old Korean An San in straight sets to settle for a silver at an Olympic test event.
“Countries like Korea, China have their Olympic roadmap ready years in advance. But we are not sure of our next competition, coaches come and go. There’s no planning for us but everyone wants us to win an Olympic medal,” a top Indian archer summed up their misery.