Archery in the Olympic and internationally competitive contexts

Compared to other Olympic sports archery has its own distinctiveness on a number of levels,  some of which are summarised below…

Prehistoric origin:
No sport practiced and competed-in, in the present-day world has a prehistoric and ancient past to match that of archery’s. Historically, the invention of the tools of archery – bow and arrow – is comparable with the invention of fire, the wheel and some even content, the invention of language by our prehistoric ancestors.

Stone and metal arrowheads discovered in the eastern Sahara of Northern Africa (Bir Al Atar modem Tunisia) suggest that archery began at least 50,000 years before the birth of Christ. Subsequently it developed in various forms in Egypt, Greece, India, Mesopotamia (Iraq), China, Japan, Korea, Turkey, Mongolia, Great Britain, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, the USA and other places too many to list here. It is beleived that competitive archery originated in Egypt around 2400 BC.

Mythological and religious significance:
Unlike other sports of antiquity, archery has a deep mythological and religious significance. It is deeply rooted in a number of mythologies and religions. Ancient India viewed it as a divine art. Many Hindu gods and goddesses are symbolised with the bow. The two great Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are rich with references to the use of bow and arrow.

Lord Rama was trained in archery (Dhanurbidya) by sages Vasistha and Viswamitra. The epic Ramayana by world’s oldest epic poet Valmiki, depicts the story of hunting a ‘Kroncha’ (a bird) couple using bow and arrow. In the Greek epics of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, the heroes Odysseus and Paris are celebrated archers. The pang of a duck wounded by  a hunter’s arrow aroused compassion in Gautama, the prince who subsequently attained enlightenment and professed Buddhism. According to the Old Testament, Ahab’s death was the result of an enemy arrow.

Important military weapon in the medieval era:
During the medieval period, bow and arrow was the most important military weapon. The great military significance of archery continued ‘til the invention of firearms. Bow and arrow were pivotal weapons in the victories of “Hundred Years War” from 1357 to 1453 in Europe. In the Armada of 1588 one third of the soldiers were bowmen. From the 13th century, most of the English monarchs were themselves, archers.

The first archery competition recorded in any detail was one organised to honour the Mongol Emperor, military strategist and warlord, Genghis Khan in 1226 AD. The stone monument discovered at the Kharkhiraa River in Siberia bears the description of hitting a target with an arrow at a distance of 335 lids (approximately 536 metres or 1,758 feet) by the Great Khan’s nephew Esunge.

An old sport in modem sense:
King Henry VIII helped found the first archery club in England in 1537 named the Fraternity St George. As a sport in the modem sense archery flourished more than four hundred years ago. The first known English archery tournament took place in 1583 at Finsbury. The Ancient Scorton Silver Arrow is a competition founded in Yorkshire in 1673 and it is credited with being the oldest continuously held archery tournament in existence today.

The oldest archery organisation in the USA was established in Philadelphia in 1828. Afterwards the National Archery Association of USA was founded in 1879 in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Earlier inclusion in the modem Olympic Games:
Paris hosted the II modern Olympic Games in 1900, staging it alongside the famous Exposition Universelle. In this early manifestation of the Modern Olympiad archery was included with individual and team events. There were six individual and five target events and two pole archery events were held. Targets were contested at 30 and 50 metre ranges.

Inclusion of women in Olympic archery:
The Games of the III Modern Olympiad were hosted by the USA in Saint Louis in 1904. The discipline of archery featured both men’s and women’s archery events. Hence archery was one of the first Olympic sports that ensured women’s equitable participation in sports. Notably, gender equality and women’s empowerment are now fundamental principles of the Modern Olympiad. Rule 5 of the Olympic Charter (2007) repudiates discrimination on grounds of gender as “incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement”. One of the missions and roles of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as defined in Rule 2.7 of the Charter is “to encourage and support the participation of women in sport at all levels and in full structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women.

Even in the absence of a world governing body with the structure of an international federation and a uniform set of competition rules, archery appeared in the Olympics from the II to the VII Games in Antwerp 1920. The V Modern Olympic Games, which took place in Stockholm in 1912, did not allow archery an entry. Another exception was the VI Olympics that was not celebrated due to 1st World War.

The re admission of archery in the Olympics was the culmination of a prolonged struggle which lasted more than five decades. The struggle began with the main barrier to inclusion, which was the lack an International umbrella organisation for archery. With this end in view Poland organised the first international archery tournament in 1931. In the same year, Federation International de Tir a’ l’Arc (FITA) was formed in Llow Poland. Captain Fularski and Dr Bronislav Pierzchala were elected President and Secretary General respectively. The decision to found FITA was taken in the first International Archery Congress held in Poland with representatives from France, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Hungary, Italy and United States. Britain sent a telegraphic message of support for formation of an international organisation for archery. From seven founding member nations, at present FITA memberships have risen to 144.

After formulating uniformly enforceable rules for competition, the FITA President attempted to secure entry of archery in the XI Berlin Olympics in 1936. In the meantime the programme of the previous X Olympic Games of 1932 in Los Angels was already finalised. In order to attain this objective the FITA president made contact with the IOC President Henry de Baillet Latour. But the Athens 1934 IOC Session decided not to raise the number of disciplines in the 1936 Olympics.

Even FITA’s request to the President of BOGOC, 1936 Theodore Lewald, to allow a demonstration of archery at the Games was not honoured. The XII and XIII Games could not be celebrated due to 2nd World War. Archery activities internationally also lost momentum during the war. Since its inception, FITA had organised nine World Championships and its membership rose to 12 with representatives from four continents during this time.

The post-World War II World Archery Championship and FITA Congress were held in 1946 in Stockholm. Seven nations were represented in the Congress which chose Paul Demare of France as its next President. He attended the 1947 IOC Session of London and pleaded for the inclusion of archery in the XVI London Olympiad in 1948. But his efforts were unsuccessful. As an alternative he lobbied the LOGOC, 1948, to ‘arrange an exhibition of archery which was also unsuccessful. In the 1949 the FITA Congress Demare tendered resignation with the suggestion that FITA members should try to persuade the IOC and National Olympic Committee (NOC) members of their respective countries that the inclusion of archery in the Olympics as a demonstration event, at least.

The next FITA President Henry Kjellson, a Swedish national, along with many FITA members, made repeated verbal and written requests to as many as 44 IOC members to include their sport in the XV Helsinki Olympics 1952. He also formally requested that the IOC Executive Board approve the demonstration of archery in that Olympics. But ironically, Frenckell, a fellow Scandinavian of Kjellson and the President of HOGOC, in 1952, gave no positive response to these representations. The important milestones of Kjellson presidency were that in 1950 the IOC recognised archery as an amateur sport and gave recognition to FITA as an international federation (IF). During his tenure the IOC also accepted the FITA rules for Olympic archery, in 1952.

Unfortunately, in the face of strong opposition from HOGOC, and especially its President, archery was not given the demonstration status in the the 1952 Games. Nevertheless archery made a great stride in its sustained struggle for inclusion in the Olympiad through its entry in the inaugural edition of the Pan American Games 1951, an IOC-recognised regional games for North and South America.

The delegates of the 1953 FITA Congress were delighted to know that in the Mexico City IOC Session of the same year, a proposal to introduce archery in the Olympic Games was initiated by the respective IOC Commission. As per the proposal archery was considered as an optional discipline in the XVI Melbourne Olympics in 1956. But the matter was to be finally decided by the MOGOC.

FITA was also highly optimistic when it was urged by the IOC to depute two delegates in the 1955 Paris Session of the latter. This session was to decide, among other things, the inclusion or otherwise, of archery along with some other sports in the Olympics. FITA Secretary General Lars Ekegren and Oscar Kessels, a Belgian representative, attended the said session. At their behest the Belgian and French archers organised a demonstration at Bagatelle polo ground of Paris for IOC observers. As ill luck would have it, inclement weather stood in the way of archery. Heavy rain seriously obstructed the optimum demonstrative effect of the event. Notwithstanding, the presence of as many as 35 IOC members on the occasion, there was little support or  interest in admitting archery in the next Olympics.

In the 1957 FITA Congress, Oscar Kessels, who hailed from a Belgian family of archers, was elected FITA President. Incidentally, his father, Gerome De Mayer, contested in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics in which archery was last included before its discontinuation from the Games. Oscar Kessels was an efficient archery organiser. He had been the head of the Royale Belge de Tir a’ l’Arc, the Belgian National Archery Association, since 1932. He was also the treasurer of NOC Belgium and forged a constructive relationship with the IOC in staging the 1955 demonstration of archery in Paris. The 1957 Sophia Session of IOC decided to give archery the status of an “optional sport”. But only male archers would be allowed to compete. This, however, was contradictory to the tradition of giving male and female Olympiads equal right of participation in all archery competitions.

Kessel informed the 1958 FITA Congress delegates that there was virtually no chance of including archery in the XVII Olympics, Rome, 1960. The IOC President at that time was Mr Avery Brundage, was avowedly an ardent supporter of amateurism in sports. On the contrary, archers of some member countries were not forbidden from receiving cash rewards as winners in competitions which was inconsistent with the amateur status of athletes. The stringent attitude of Mr Brundage on amateurism, the decision of IOC to accord archery an optional sport status for men only in the Sophia Session, and the ultimate non-inclusion of the sport in the Rome Olympiad, proved to be a blessing in disguise for FITA. Had archery been introduced in that Olympics as a men only optional sport, FITA would have to compromise its avowed policy of equal right of participation for men and women.

The XVIII Summer Olympics were hosted by Tokyo in 1964. President Kessel was hopeful that archery would be included in the Games. His optimism was prompted by the delegates of the Japanese Archery Association in the 1959 FITA Congress. Mr Hirushi Murakami broke the welcome news of preparing an archery ground for the Games. Ultimately archery was not given a chance. Instead the organisers exhibited a Japanese version of archery named Kyudo in the Tokyo Olympiad. At long last Inger Frith appeared on the scene as the torch bearer of archery’s eventual inclusion in Olympics.

This British lady had a track record of participating in two consecutive World Archery Camps in 1950 and 1952. Besides this, she was the manager of the British Archery Team for a decade. Before being elected as President of FITA in 1961, she was its Vice-President. At the 1963 Congress she appointed immediate past President Kessel as FITA Olympic Secretary. He was entrusted with the responsibility of liaising with the IOC on all matters pertaining to archery. During the 1963 Congress FITA emerged as a truly International organisation with representatives from all the 5 continents. She sought membership of the General Assembly of International Sport Organisation (GAISF), a go between of the IFs and the IOC. She requested this organisation seek the help of the IF whose respective disciplines were already included in the Olympics for the post-1920 reintroduction of archery in the Olympic Games. She participated in the 1963 IOC Session in Baden Baden, and attended all the functions of IOC in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that helped her to meet IOC President Mr Brundage the following year.

After repeated requests and frequent submissions the IOC decided in 1965 and 1966 to reintroduce archery in the next edition of the Summer Olympic Games to be held in Munich in 1972. Her month long stay in Mexico City where the XIX Olympic Games were held in 1968 enabled her to see for herself the technicalities of organising an Olympic discipline.

At a later stage, technical guidelines on archery competition in the XX Munich Olympiad, 1972 were framed. And the qualifying guidelines for Olympic archers were formulated by FITA.

Lastly, the 1971 FITA Congress celebrated the re inclusion of archery, a sport enriched with a prehistoric tradition and a modern-day popular and ever growing following, ensuring its entry into the 1972 Munich Olympic Games after a hiatus of 52 years and also after 40 years of the establishment of FITA.

Interestingly, archery secured its regular appearance in the Games of the Modern Olympiad since 1972 under the able guidance and charismatic leadership of that most celebrated women — Inger Frith. Thus archery maintained its tradition of upholding the principle of equality of participation in physical culture, games and sports.