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With the four stages of Archery World Cup coming to a close this year, India’s most successful archer, Deepika Kumari, has not been able to win a single medal in 2019, something which hasn't happened in the past nine years. The Archery World Cups have been one of Deepika's favourite hunting grounds, where she has consistently won medals since 2010.
Making big stridesDeepika announced her arrival in style winning two gold medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in individual and team events, which were being hosted in New Delhi. In the years that followed, Kumari quickly rose to the top. Winning medals in World Cups and World Championships, Kumari soon found herself in a spot few Indians had been before- World number one. Kumari carved out her own destiny with sheer determination and fought her way to the top and inspired many others to do so. The 25-year-old has been a part of every Women’s Recurve medal India has ever won. With 31 world cup medals (stages and finals) under her belt, including six golds, 16 silvers and nine bronzes, the Jamshedpur athlete has been a true inspiration in her field of sport for the upcoming generation. Yet, what caused the archer with an immense medal haul to falter this year? For long, Indian archery has been plagued with a problematic power struggle which is taking a significant toll on the overall performance in the sport. Besides, the lackadaisical approach by the Archery Association of India (AAI) has also affected their participation. To consider a few instances, the first of it happened during the World Cup Stage I, when Indian archers were forced to skip the major event in Medelline, Colombia, due to flight issues.
The missed flight sagaA 14-member Indian archery team was supposed to fly out from Delhi to Medelline, via Amsterdam, in two batches. When the first batch reached the airport, they were informed by the KLM airlines officials that since the flight was delayed there was no certainty of the archers catching their connecting flight from Amsterdam at a gap of one-and-a-half hours. After the return of the first batch from airport, the Archery Association of India (AAI), which booked a long-haul flight in the last minute (apparently at a higher price) despite picking the team in Bhubaneswar by March 18, cancelled the whole tour as the second batch also faced a similar situation. The cancellation of the tour not only deprived the recurve archers of an exposure a year before the Olympics but also affected their participation in the World Cup Finals. Besides, Deepika Kumari could not repeat her individual title Performance that she had won at stage III of the World Cup in 2018, held in Salt Lake City.
Sending the B-TeamThe controversy further escalated when the AAI decided to send a B-team for the World Cup leg II event in Shanghai. There has been no national coach for years, so the AAI used to send coaches of selected archers with the squad all this while. But this time, AAI picked ‘wrong coaches’ to accompany the team. Ved Kumar and Kailash who were active archers and who competed at the National Open selection trials for World Championship and World Cup in Rohtak failed to find a berth in the squad and entered the team as coaches with no coaching experience. Such discrepancies not only hurt the state of recurve archery but further denied a scope to Deepika to perform in one of the major international events before the World Cup finals. Automatically, she was left out to be a part of just the Stage III and Stage IV of the World Cup, compared to her international competitors who were participating in all the stages.
AAI elections and power strugglesWith hopes to make it big in the stage III of the World Cup in Netherlands, Deepika was raring to give her best shot, but the controversy continued to embroil after the AAI election. With two AAI bodies into existence, there begun the power struggle. While the group having the Indian Olympic Association’s (IOA) backing had Arjun Munda being elected as the AAI president and Virendra Sachdeva as secretary general in Delhi, the other camp elected BVP Rao and Maha Singh as its president and secretary general. The World Archery (WA) had previously tried solving the matter by threatening suspension but to no avail. This time, the players stood between the crossfires of the two AAI parties, where AI raising the possibility of Indian team management to compete under the World Archery banner, instead of the tri-colour. The uncalled-for developments in the AAI have dented the morale of our archers and no wonder their performances took a dip this year. The WA must be applauded for showing serious intent to sort out the AAI mess – the world body even appointed World Archery Asia Vice President Kazi Rajib Uddin Ahmed Chapol as a mediator to sort out the differences between the two warring groups. In case if the AAI is ‘suspended’, our archers will continue to take part in international competitions under the WA flag but not under the national flag. World Archery has now asked Indian shooter and Olympics gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra to look into the matter. The secretary-general of the world body Tom Dielen has written a mail to Indian Olympic Association (IOA) president Narinder Batra. Besides, WA has given a deadline of July 31 to the Supreme Court of India to give a verdict on the ongoing controversy. We can only hope that a unanimous decision is taken which not only resolves the conflict but also lift the morale of our shooters and allow them to focus on their game and eventually bringing laurels.