Four world champions, the first from India in their sport, began their Asian Games campaign on Sunday One of those champions also holds a world record. But only the most serious sports fans knew about Jyoti Surekha Vennam, Aditi Swamy, Parneet Kaur and Ojas Deotale or compound archery, despite all these achievements last month. And the main reason is simple: compound archery, unlike its sister sport recurve, is not an event at the Olympic Games, so it doesn’t get eyeballs or, importantly, funding.
Another reason for low awareness is of course India’s lack of success but recent achievements should test this theory during the Asian Games. And one archer ready to make it happen is the uber-consistent and feisty Jyoti Surekha Vennam. He almost single-handedly raised the profile of the sport with his record-setting, gold-winning performances at both the World Championships and the World Cup.
Jyoti (27) from Vijayawada recently told ESPN, “I think 2023 is my time to achieve everything. “I’m lucky enough and I hope it continues until the end of the year.”
In August, the Indian women’s compound team of Jyoti, Aditi and Parneet won India’s first gold medal at the World Archery Championships. Then Aditi (17) won gold to become India’s first senior world champion – and beat Jyoti in an all-India semi-final. (The previous month, he had become the under-18 world champion with a record score.) The third gold came from Ojs Deotale (21), India’s first men’s world champion in archery.
Their youth is another big plus, as confirmed by Jyoti. “They are young, this is the first year they have been part of the senior category and they have done very well.”
All of this puts compound archery at a tipping point, and where it goes from here depends largely on funding – more importantly because it’s a much more expensive sport, thanks to mechanical bows (compared to more traditional recurve bows) and a top-level set-up bow. It can be priced between ₹3.5-4.5 lakh. A set of a dozen arrows costs around ₹40,000 and it takes around ₹65,000-70,000 to prepare them for shooting. All equipment has to be imported from the US so it also depends on the dollar rate and exchange rate. “We have to use new arrows every two tournaments because we practice so much, maybe one arrow hits another and they get damaged easily,” she explains. “We have to invest a lot to buy new equipment, to keep ourselves updated. Even equipment is important to us because if you don’t use the best or newest version, it can be a difference of one or two points. That’s where we lack support.”
But there are other factors, such as administrative decisions, that show the difference between compound and recurve. In 2021, for example, India’s compound archery team was not allowed to fly to Stage 1 of the World Cup following what would later turn out to be a false positive COVID-19 test by the team’s coach, partly because the priority was the recurve team in an Olympic year.
Jyoti puts it bluntly: “We don’t get any support just because compound archery is not included in the Olympics. Olympic athletes get a lot of support, including from private organizations, but we don’t.” She is currently supported by the Dream Foundation and says she is grateful for it but many of her peers do not have this back-up.
Jyoti hopes their recent performance can bring some change.
“I can’t question them but I can only request them to extend support to Olympic athletes,” he says, his usually composed tone becoming emotional. “What is our fault if our event is not in the Olympics? I know it is a big event, but we are also competing in other events, we have won medals in the World Championships and the Asian Games and the Asian Championships as well.”
The achievements have increased the level of competition in the sport, Jyoti said. “The competition has become very tough now, we have to go through a tough selection process. Many young archers are coming to the compound who are shooting very well, who are fighting hard and you have to be very good if you want to be part of the Indian team.”
In fact, Jyoti would have missed part of the season and might not have made the Asian Games had it not been for the postponement last year after a bad day in the earlier qualifying trials.
But despite this rise in players and profiles, the Asian Games will be an almost new platform for Jyoti and her teammates, with athletes from various sports competing as Team India. Archery has featured only twice at the Commonwealth Games and the last Asiad only had compound archery in the team event. India has won 10 composite medals at the Asiad, but only one gold: the men’s compound team in 2014.
Yet this group of archers has speed, they have faith and they have a goal bigger than a limit: they need to strike a blow for their sport and for themselves.