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Archery could do with a little more attention

Goa has made progress in archery with archers from the state winning at the international and national level despite the hurdles the sport faces in terms of government assistance and help from the media, writes SUSHANT CHIMULKAR

Archery is one of the oldest sports in India and one of the oldest methods to hunt for food. Ancient as it is, it still has not lost its charm with many and is gaining popularity in Goa with youngsters being attracted to the sport, says founder secretary of Amateur Archery Association of Goa, Chetan Kavlekar.

“The journey, so far, for Goan archery has not been as attention-grabbing as football, cricket or other second-rung sports, but its acceptance by archers in Goa is gaining momentum as they go about their job with dedication,” he says.

“In the last 14-15 years Goan archers have performed wonderfully to make their mark at the national stage; some of them have even gone on to represent India at international events,” he adds.

About the process of selection, he explains, “We conduct demo camps for schools mostly in rural areas as the students from these areas show more interest and practice regularly as opposed to students of city-based schools who sometimes tend to take it not so seriously once they are selected. After that, the prospective archers are asked to give trials and based on the performance they are called for camps which are about 15 to 20 days and held prior to every national championship.”

“The archers have to go through a fitness regime so as to build their physical and mental health. Archery is not an easy sport as one is required to practice for about 7-8 hours daily,” he says.

Talking about the journey of Goan archery, so far, Kavlekar informs, “I am a former national player and besides archery, I have represented the state in four other disciplines – netball, table tennis, handball and basketball. I have even coached Goa teams in basketball, table tennis, netball and handball. I took up archery because I was very fond of the sport. I wanted to introduce archery in Goa long ago but found no support. But I am thankful to one of my promoters, a SAI administrator who lent his support and asked me to go ahead with my objective. And with the blessings of the union minister and North Goa MP Shripad Naik, we were able to get affiliation from the Archery Association of India in 2005.”

On the progress of Goan archers, he says, “The same year we participated in a national championship for the first time and came 10th in the senior category. And that is when I realised the true potential of Goan archers and decided to put all my efforts to bring the Goan archery on the national stage.”

“It was my dream to see Goa find a place in the national medal list in the next five years. But much to my surprise, we won silver at the senior nationals, and that too within two years, in 2007. In 2008, we won three medals and two more medals were added in 2009. The same year, we hosted the All India Championship in which Snehal Divakar won the state a bronze medal,” he adds. “In 2010 at the School Games held in Pune, Goan archers claimed 12 medals besides winning the U-19 championship in the Indian round.”

At present there are about 200 archers in Goa, he says. “We have been doing very well in the junior and sub-junior level and at senior level too. We won many medals and stood among the first 10 in the initial years, till 2013.”

“The association thought that the sport of archery should be promoted across the state and organised camps in nine talukas to tap the talent, particularly in rural areas. Though there was a good response from the young archers, they could not move further because of lack of infrastructure,” he adds.

“In Goa, there is absolutely no infrastructure available for archery and that hampers the growth of the sport in a big way. We have, on many occasions, requested the government to provide us with proper infrastructure and necessary equipment but unfortunately, all our requests have fallen on deaf ears. The government has provided us with some place at the Ponda sports complex where our archers practice regularly under a dedicated coach, but apart from that if they could provide us good infrastructure – one in the North and the other in the South with appointment of one or two coaches – it will do a world of good to Goan archery.”

“Currently most of our archers practise with the Indian bow but to qualify for international events, one needs to upgrade to a recurve bow or compound bow. But these bows cost somewhere in the range of 2 to 2.25 lakh, and a majority of the archers are unable to afford it. We would be grateful if the government provides us with the required equipment,” he adds.

About the assistance being received from SAG, he says, “We get a grant of `1 lakh for organising the state championship. And whenever teams participate in any nation-level championship, it takes care of expenses like kit allowance, travelling allowance, dearness allowance, etc.”

Kavlekar, however, is not content with the aid provided by SAG and wants it to be more helpful. “I wouldn’t like to be critical of anybody, but since archery, is an Olympic sport and has been ranked as one of India’s A-rated sports, it deserves its rightful treatment. And going by our performances in this A-rated sport, I think we deserve the much-needed support from the government. Likewise, there are many associations which are Olympic sports and have existed for the last 30-odd years but haven’t done anything worthwhile. But they still continue to get adequate funds and support from the government, while our requests are not heard by any. It’s high time that SAG focuses on Olympic sports and evaluates the performances of all the associations before distributing the grants.”

Kavlekar was profuse in his praise of top Goan archer Snehal Divakar who is currently striving hard to seek a berth in the Tokyo Olympics.

“Our archers like Snehal Divakar, Monika Singh and others have done exceptionally well to bring laurels to the state. Snehal has even beaten top Indian archer and world champion Deepika Kumari in the past. Besides winning medals for the state at various national level championships, Snehal has also participated in international championships on four occasions. However, lack of infrastructure in Goa forced her to move to Jharkhand on a scholarship where she trained at SAIL academy and won many medals while representing the state of Jharkhand.

“It gives me immense pleasure and pride to say that Snehal has qualified for the Olympic trials. She and another Goan Monika Singh made it to the first 20 out of the total of 60 archers. While Snehal ranked fourth, Monika came in 12th. And since only the first eight are eligible to give further trials, only Snehal could qualify. It’s a rare instance that any Goan has qualified for the Olympics trials. I hope she does well in the trials and qualifies to represent India at the Olympics,” he says.

“It is also unfortunate that the Goa University, of late, has stopped sending its archery teams for various inter-university championships, as a result of which many of the prospective medal-winning archers are shifting to other universities and winning the medals for them,” laments Kavlekar, who is also a PE teacher at a higher secondary school in Cujira-Bambolim.

The 36th National Games will be held in Goa in October-November this year, and archery will be one of the disciplines where archers across the country will be vying for top honours. Ask him about the likely medal haul that he expects from Goan archers and Kavlekar responds, “Well, there will be some 20-odd medals to be grabbed in archery. But looking at our preparedness and in the absence of adequate infrastructure, it will be silly on my part to expect 10-15 medals. Nevertheless, I have full faith in our archers and I am confident that they will win at least five medals for the state.”

On a parting note, Kavlekar has two requests – adequate support from the government to Goan archery and wider publicity from the media to Goan archers and their achievements.

“The media, no doubt, is doing its best and giving us good coverage, but we would appreciate it if it could highlight our achievements with a little wider publicity so that the archers get motivated and subsequently inspire youngsters to take up the sport,” he signs off.

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