Deepika Kumari, Ankita Bhakat secure Olympic quota, medals for India at Asian meet
Former world No 1 Deepika Kumari blanked compatriot Ankita Bhakat 6-0 in the women’s recurve final at the Asian Continental Tournament— a qualification event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics— at Bangkok to secure India’s first quota place in the women’s category on Thursday.
Earlier this year, the men’s recurve team, comprising Tarundeep Rai, Atanu Das and Pravin Jadhav, beat Canada 5-2 to enter the quarter-finals of the World Championships at Den Bosch, Netherlands in June to win the team quota.
The performance in Bangkok is heartening as the Indian archers were competing as neutral athletes because the world governing body has suspended the Archery Association of India due to poor governance and infighting.
Kumari was flawless from the word go on Thursday, earning 655 points. The Olympic quota competition held on the sidelines of the continental event took into account the ranking points of the Asian Championships, and Kumari—competing under the neutral flag—entered the quota competition ranked No 1.
Shooting consistent scores, she began her Olympic qualification campaign by getting the better of Malaysia’s Nur Afisa Abdul Halil 7-3. Zahra Nemati was her next victim, beating the Iranian 6-4. In the quarter-final, she defeated home favourite Narisara Khunhiranchaiyo 6-2.
Bhakat, ranked sixth with a score of 633, too entered the semi-final, ensuring at least one quota place for India. The competition provided six quota places—three each in men’s and women’s section—but any nation could not win more than one quota place.
In the semi-finals, Kumari outplayed Nguyet Do Thi Anh of Vietnam 6-2 to set up a title clash with Bhakat who got the better of Bhutan’s Karma 6-2 in the other last-four clash.
“It was a nervous start but I stayed focused as the match progressed,” Kumari was quoted as saying after winning gold and a quota place.
The other countries which won quota places included Bhutan (1, woman), Iran (1, men’s), Mongolia (1, men’s) and Vietnam (1 woman, 1 men’s).
The Indian women’s archery team can also win an Olympic quota during the final qualification event on the sidelines of the Berlin World Cup in June next year. “That will be tough,” says former international and national team coach Purnima Mahato. “If the situation (uncertainty in the Archery Association of India) continues, it could have serious implications on Berlin World Cup preparations,” said Mahato from Jamshedpur.
“India won a gold, two silver and four bronze at the Asian Championships but as neutral athletes. It’s a big concern…we can’t compete under the national flag. If the situation persists, the archers could lose momentum and focus,” she added.
Former government observer for archery, Sanjeeva Singh, said though there is a possibility of bagging a team quota in the women’s section, the current situation is making it difficult. “There is no proper planning. It’s the individual effort that’s showing; collective endeavour is missing,” he said from Mumbai.
Two factions have been fighting a legal battle since May. Both conducted elections separately, which were declared null and void by court. The Archery Association was derecognised by the sports ministry in 2012 for not adhering to the National Sports Code’s age and tenure clause.
Recently, the Delhi High Court appointed a returning officer to prepare the electoral college and schedule for fresh elections. The details are likely to be submitted in court by December 15.
The next date for hearing is December 20, where the court will give the go-ahead for fresh elections provided the list submitted by the returning officer doesn’t invite objections from state bodies. In August, the court had also ordered the sports ministry to form a five-member panel to manage the affairs of the suspended national federation. Former Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir, BD Ahmad, is the chairman of the interim panel.
Virender Sachdeva, secretary of one of the archery factions, says if all goes well, the elections will take place in January. “The archers are already running behind schedule due to infighting and if the elections are not held in January, it could further complicate the scenario,” he said.
“The next (competitive) season starts in February. It’s time to streamline the system soon. Otherwise, we’ll have to compete under the neutral athletes’ banner at the Olympics,” said Mahato.