For Bhutan who offer very little in terms of competition at the international stage, archery is more than just a sport. It is a tradition, a culture and a history -- practised by '85 per cent' men out of nearly seven-lakh population.
Declared as the national sport of the country in 1971, archery has been described by the Bhutan Olympic Committee as a “celebration of the Bhutanese way of life.”
No festival in Bhutan is complete without archery and the traditional archery tournaments between villages are battles for honour and include feasts and prizes.
“Archery in Bhutan is something more than a sport because our ancestors used to play this traditional game. I can't make you understand how archery is associated with our life,” Nima Wangdi, a Bhutanese archer participating in the ongoing 20th Asian Archery Championships, told the Daily Star during yesterday.
“There are many sports being played in Bhutan but football and archery are on top and archery is obviously ahead of football in terms of popularity and participation. I think 85 per cent of men play archery in Bhutan,” added Nima, who progressed to the second round of recurve bow event before losing to a Chinese Taipei player.
Nima said that traditional cane-made archery is practised at school level with a set of rules and regulations formulated by the Bhutan Indigenous Federation and numerous compound archery tournaments with 145-meter targets are being held in Bhutan round the year. However, those do not help them compete at the international level, which requires hitting 50-meter targets in compound events.
The Bhutanese compound archers are able to hit the targets (145 meter) with notable accuracy and frequency but despite such skills, they are not getting international success as they are used to finger release arrows instead of international standard trigger release.
“We don't have many compound archers who can compete at international level, and those that we have are part-timers who play the game after managing their own business,” said Nima, who is a contractual recurve archer of Bhutan Archery Federation.
However, Nima said that they have the dream of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games directly. The Bhutanese players usually take part in Olympics with wild card.
“We have started recurve bow event four to five years ago and we have set three targets for future: The first one is to qualify for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games directly. The second one is to win any medal from the Asian Archery Championships and the third one is to win gold medal in the next South Asian Games,” said Nima adding that they have won five bronze medals in the 2016 South Asian Games in India and four medals, including two silver medals, in the ISSF Islamic Solidarity Archery Championships held in Dhaka in January this year.