What’s in store for you? Have a look.
Hidden amongst the stories from the Asian Championships and the South Asian Games in Nepal – Bhutan’s breakthrough among them – was this remarkable story about Ety Khatun, age 14, of Bangladesh, who escaped an arranged marriage at just 11 years old to become an archer. She took a gold medal, one of a host for Bangladesh at the SEA, cementing their reputation as one of archery’s most exciting emerging nations.
Ety Khatun, 14, the daughter of a sweet-seller, defied her parents attempts to marry her in 2016 as they struggled to get by in a remote village in western Bangladesh.
On Monday, Khatun won a third gold medal in archery at the South Asian games in Nepal, a rare sporting success for Bangladesh which has yet to land an Olympic medal.
“My parents wanted me to get married. I cried a lot and didn’t eat for two days. I forced them to send me to Dhaka to take part in an archery training camp,” Khatun told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Nepal.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage, according to the United Nations.
The country has banned the practise and in 2018 launched a phone app to digitally verify the ages of brides and grooms.
Still, more than half of all girls are married before they are 18.
Khatun may have become one of them had she not been spotted by scouts from the Bangladesh Archery Federation.
“We had selected about 60 potential archers from various regions and she was one of them,” said national coach Ziaul Hoque.
Smaller in stature than her peers, many underestimated Khatun.
“Not much was expected from her,” Hoque said.
But she proved mentally strong, and, in 2018, won bronze at a national archery competition.
“That’s when my parents stopped pressurising me to get married,” said Khatun.
Today her parents back her and revel in her achievements.
Her father remains the family’s sole breadwinner, something Khatun hopes to change.
“(He) has allergy issues and can’t work in winters. If something happens to him we don’t know what we will do. I hope archery can help me support my family and bring peace to them,” she said.
Urging young girls from her village to follow her path she said: “If you work hard, anything is possible. If you are scared and sit back, nothing will work.”
You often forget, from a position in the West, that Olympic sport in many countries is an escape to other possibilities, rather than a choice; however driven. The doc about Deepika Kumari released a couple of years ago sheds a lot of light on the situation. It might be time for another watch.
So it seems that the upcoming Star Wars film The Rise Of Skywalker looks set to feature some #badarchery, with a character called Jannah, played by British actress Naomi Ackie, wielding a bow as part of the Resistance. This image came from a piece in Vanity Fair earlier this year.
Obviously her form is pretty horrible, but that’s par for the course. Perhaps it was just for the photo shoot. We’ll see what happens when the film comes out and if they’ve put any effort into making it look real. Not that it needs to be real. Just hopefully not actually stupid.
The bow is kind of interesting. At first glance it looks a little like a camless compound bow with a shoot-through riser, as found on a few target and hunting bows, e.g. this model from Bear:
But looking a little more closely it looks suspiciously like one left-hand and one right-hand recurve riser glued together. Risers are distinctive, and with thanks to everybody on my Facebook page who contributed, we even found out exactly what. It’s a pair of Initech 2 risers, sold by the Decathlon group – a chain of French sports stores found across Europe. They sell a variety of cheap own-label Chinese archery gear, and an Initech riser is yours for just €50.
So Jannah’s ‘energy bow’ really does appear to be just a couple of these epoxied together, with some ‘limbs’ stuck in the end (possibly broken off, reversed real recurve limbs?), some extras, and most likely an elastic string (if most other Hollywood archery is anything to go by). It’s even clearer if you look on this Star Wars ephemera website:
Still, I found myself enjoying the chutzpah and inventiveness of the props guys for sticking a cheap left hand and a cheap right hand together and coming out with something suitably steampunk and interesting looking – even if it saved them the bother of designing something from scratch. And maybe when the film comes out, it’ll all make some sense. Is Jannah going to be a heroine up there with Katniss? Who knows? But she’s going to hurt her elbow doing *that*, that’s for sure.
Ki Bo Bae is still clearly carrying some sway on Korean sports media, and was happy to do an interview, which ended up rather tearful at points. If you want the details, try reading this piece in translation, but the gist of it is: she is really genuine in her desire to continue as an athlete, but she’s finding combining motherhood and training very difficult indeed.
In the first stage of the selection process for Tokyo, an open tournament that cut to 64 at the end of August, she came 37th. With only three spots available, those hoping for the big comeback next year may have to start adjusting their expectations.
It’s tough at the top, and tougher for parents. There are now multiple parents of young children on the elite recurve lines, including Taylor Worth, Ksenia Perova, Inna Stepanova, Taru Kuoppa, Lidiia Sichenikova, Alexandra Mirca, Lee Seungyun and Oh Jin Hyek to name but a few. Perhaps the greatest Korean Olympic archer of all, Kim Soo Nyung was a parent of two children when she made her comeback to win team gold at Sydney 2000, although you could argue that that was in an era where there was [slightly] less competition for the three crucial spots.
It’s difficult to imagine a ferocious competitor like Bo Bae giving up, but perhaps her life has shifted onto a different track now.
It’s Wednesday afternoon in Den Bosch, and it’s been pissing it down all morning. Ninety-six recurve archers have been preparing for one of the most important matches of their lives on a practice field in horrible rain and near black skies.
This is, of course, the medal match that decides forty eight of the places for the Tokyo Olympics. For the majority of the archers who have never been, it’s probably even more important than their performance at the Olympics itself. Going to the Games remains the high point for a great many archery careers, and long after you pack away the bow for the final time, it’s the badge that will stay with you for the rest of your life. It’s the thing that matters to the rest of the world. A bronze medal at the worlds will matter to the people on this field, your peers. But becoming an Olympian is what matters to everyone else, forever. And chances are, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen right here, right now.
It’s unfair, of course. It’s judging you on a handful of arrows, out of the million plus you might post over a long archery career. You are reliant not just upon yourself, but the weakest shooter, that day, of the three of you going up to the line. Maybe the weakest shooter is you, and you know it, and it could be you grinding someone else’s dreams into the dust.
There’s a lot more riding on it for everyone else around you. Coaches, especially. It’s highly likely to change the course of their career, for better or worse. It may change national government funding for the next four years, or forever. It might change the entire course of the sport in your country. For a lot of the people around you, this match is more important than whatever you might manage to produce on a field in Tokyo next July. Expectations is putting it mildly.
So all the energy of this immense, partially rained-out gathering of hundreds of archers from across the world, for the first few days is going directly towards this single team match. For those that have made it, without being too hyperbolic, the fate of nations hangs upon them.
The rugby field that hosts the qualification is damp and cramped and there is barely enough space for everything; archers, coaches, bows and scopes; it’s hard to move. Because of the number of things to cover, the media team have split up into bases, and I don’t get to choose what I want to see. For the men’s matches, I get to watch Chinese Taipei vs France, and India vs Canada, close up, first hand. You can almost smell the testosterone in the air by the time the warm-up arrows have gone down. But you also see the flickers of fear on everyone’s face.
I try to take photographs, but nothing captures the archery-on-steroids noise of what follows. Guys you normally see well controlling their emotions – Atanu Das, Pierre Plihon – become snorting, screaming charging bulls, every release marked with a vent of energy, fists not tapped, but smashed against each other. Behind me is a row of tents, and behind that a noisy rail of every nation screaming encouragement. Taipei, normally quite a disciplined lot, look like they are letting out demons.
India punch and scream their way to a victory over the Canadian men, who have actually shot superbly, with a 58 in the third set. But they don’t have Tarundeep Rai anchoring, who is on goddamn fire. India deserved the win, but Canada didn’t deserve to lose, you could say. Rough. They knew they were good.
But it’s roughest on the French men. All but one of their 24 arrows first goes in the yellow, but just a few too many are nines. You can tell Valladont – who is dressed, it must be said, like a village idiot – is struggling a little, still carrying the trace of an injury that sidelined him throughout 2018. Taipei pull more tens out, and their tiebreak is confident and aggressive. But it isn’t fair. It’s not a performance to be ashamed of. But it’s not there.
The women come out. On my right, India v Belarus. From the whistle, something is wrong. India shoot a miss. Their second stringer Komalika Bari has something wrong with her armguard. The coach runs in. In the second end, it happens again, and Bari puts two arrows low, in the black. Some minor technical problem, in the most important match of the last four years. Belarus, despite a couple of indifferent ends, are 4-0 up. India recover in the third, but you feel it’s over, and it is. To my left, again, we have Chinese Taipei vs. France. Taipei look ready to kill, and they open with a 57 against France’s 56. It sets the tone for the rest of the match. It’s done from there on in.
I walk to the target on the last end. Audrey Adiceom and Melanie Gaubil are looking at their final set of arrows like they are looking at an abstract painting in a art gallery, bemusedly trying to work out what it means. Hoping it might rearrange itself into something that made more sense. Across the field, I can see the German girls literally jumping in the air. It’s the first time they’ve qualified a full women’s team for the Olympics in twenty years. Deepika Kumari screams in Hindi at her teammate. I don’t know what she’s saying, but it’s pretty clear. People are balled up on the floor of the tents at the back, crying. It’s horrific. But it’s done. And what is done, will change your archery career, for ever.
Ksenia Perova, the talismanic leader of the Russian recurve team, is the defending champion. There is not to be a repeat, after she goes out in the last eight. I need a quote from her. I know she doesn’t speak English; at least not enough English to deliver the kind of pithy soundbite Im looking for. I look around for the usual suspects I know who can translate; Sayana Tsyemprilova, Vladimir Esheev. Nobody in sight. She looks at me. I say ‘do it in Russian’, and tape it. The result in English, I have to thank my friend Kristina for:
“I am of course upset that I have lost, but I think that after qualifying in the 52nd place, it is good that I have gone up and am amongst the top eight strongest athletes. It is a decent result. Thanks to all my opponents. The Korean team is of course very strong, but we will fight.”
I don’t have the expression on her face in there, or the pathos, the resignation, the professionalism, or the sense of loss in her voice. They don’t pull down the essence of what happened. You don’t get the nuances. You don’t get the tone, whether something was a joke, or bitter, or not. You just have the words. But you have to go and get the words, whether people are devastated or elated or whatever.
In Rio, I had to supervise some junior reporters, and I still treasure the quote gathered by one of them, after perhaps the favourite for the women’s title took an early bath:
Korea had it coming. This article in Bow International explains why, at least a little. None of them really looked like champions. The tone was set by Lee Woo Seok, who spent official practice day in a local hospital having a battery of scans. Looking like death, he turned up the next day and shot – and still finished top of qualification. It was painful to watch, but the guy is like a dog – refusing to show weakness. Over 72 arrows, the Koreans still rule the show, and possibly always will, but on the short course, they all looked vulnerable.
Apparently the Koreans had Bae Jae Hyeon, silver medallist in Berlin, run to Incheon airport to get on a plane, business class. He was through security and sitting in the lounge when the call came to stand down. You would have thought they’d at least let the lad collect his air miles and get a day off in Holland. (His bow had gone on an earlier flight and actually turned up in Den Bosch).
The men losing, both individually and in the team semifinal, was less surprising to anyone who had been following their patchy results over the last year. But the women losing? A bigger shock, but it was coming. You only have to look at the way the two teams walk on stage. Right here. Korea look like they are coming out for an exhibition match. Taipei look like they have come to kick the shit out of whoever is there, and they don’t care who. They were more focused, more disciplined and they wanted it more.
Chang Hyejin has looked terrible in almost every match I have watched her in this year, since the lofty heights she achieved at the start of 2018. If she is still in charge of the team, she is no longer leading from the front. The singular urge to dominate and win, which you still see in Woo Seok and you used to see in Ki Bo Bae, seems absent from the current frontline. You might think of shades of the worst days of the England football team at international tournaments; overpaid, overtired at the end of a season, and uncommitted to the result.
A friend of mine observing the travelling Korean team in Nimes one year said he was surprised to see them all in McDonalds one evening, and in Burger King the next. “I thought they’d be more like athletes.” The indoor gig may be a holiday for them, but the World Championships certainly is not. I see one of the six – I will spare their blushes – eating an entire large pack of Maltesers in between their matches on the Sunday. I can speculate about motivation and culture and the life of a pro across the world, but, ultimately, I don’t know why they didn’t perform. But I do know a large pack of Maltesers probably won’t make me a champion.
And so to Minsk. For some reason, Europe was the last region of the world to finally get an official sub-Olympic multisport competition, with the first edition being held in Baku in 2015. Around the world, the Asian Games has become a huge event over several decades, with the Pan-American Games closing in fast. There is also a Pacific Games and an African Games, both offering Olympic spots for archery and many other sports. A total of 4000 athletes descended on Belarus’ capital to contest dozens of events in fifteen sports. But just like the last edition, it really did not make an enormous impact on the public consciousness in Western Europe, confined to minor satellite channels and barely mentioned in the sports press.
I speak to a photographer from [well-known photo agency], who had pitched up at the archery and said they had only sent ‘two guys’, when twenty might attend an Olympic Games. He says he emailed the Berlin office and asked them what they needed, and they seemed barely aware that it was on.
The city itself has a fascinating history, rebuilt after appalling devastation in the second world war in a grand, Napoleonic style, and welcoming the influx of visitors for the largest event in its post-war history. The transport, food and especially the design were praised across the board. I ride to the venue on dedicated buses down the glorious Stalinist boulevards, and the entire event is staffed by thousands of enthusiastic young volunteers beamingly representing Europe’s last dictatorship.
The training ground for FC Minsk was the host for the archery competition, a location it shared with the riotous beach soccer finals field. Not far from the venue there was a theme park and the screams from a nearby rollercoaster echoing across the field made some matches just straight weird. The beach soccer couldn’t have been more different from the archery, they play music non-stop. And they have dancing girls. Like it’s the 1970s or something. But it didn’t stop me thinking, why don’t we have dancing girls? It’s been mentioned a few times that archery is looking for its equivalent of beach volleyball. I mean. Maybe.
The photo manager is kind enough to give me a bib that lets me access the photo position, but it’s extremely limited in terms of range. There is a single long bench to sit on on the right side side of the range, and that’s it. With a huge camera crane in the way. Which is why a lot of the photos from the event look rather similar. Sorry. If it’s any consolation, many of the pros were all moaning.
The format of the archery competition at the European Games followed the Olympic pattern, with qualification followed by team events and then all individual matches played out one by one on the finals field; everyone got their turn in the sun, and sun it was, with almost all matches played out until the last day in sweltering temperatures and capricious winds. Until the last day.
Minsk also allowed Olympic qualification in mixed team and individual. Up to four were available, in the end, only three were handed out: to Lucilla Boari, Gaby Bayardo, and Pablo Acha. There was little respite for France, who I watched getting stuffed in Den Bosch and again here. Many teams seemed here just for the Olympic spots. I sometimes think that it’s good that the Olympics is unquestionably the pinnacle of the recurve sport, unlike a lot of other perennials at the Summer Games. But it also skews things violently towards a single competition every four years. Listening to them talk, many of them would swap winning the European Games or a World Cup for an Olympic spot in a heartbeat. There’s not only one thing in archery.
Nespoli was incredible. He looked like the strongest there. He looked like a mountain. He was going to take it from the moment he walked out there. You didn’t need to call it for the win. He was kind of there already.
The last day however, saw a catastrophic judging error, that ultimately meant that Dan Olaru and Sjef van den Berg had to replay the end of a match that Sjef had already won – at least according to the rule books. Both walked back out for a shootoff, in grim conditions, which Olaru won. I can’t really comment on this further, because the fallout from it, at this writing, hasn’t quite yet settled to the ground – even though I’d like to. But it was an ugly way to finish a competition which showed that the very best in Europe were the very best.
Perhaps the European Games, in a few editions time, might become a major competition that archers regard as the best moment of their career, and not just a stepping stone to something else, something happening the year after. Perhaps.
Antalya is blessed with many things: eternal sunshine, pleasant beaches, delicious fruit and veg, nice people, no-one talking about Brexit and so on. You’re probably familiar with the fact that it’s an eternal fixture on the World Cup circuit, but it’s become a training camp base for many other teams and squads during the rest of the year as well. Why wouldn’t you? It’s well nice.
In Britain, archery isn’t ‘real archery’ unless it involves mud. ‘Real archery’ is rolling a heavy straw boss across a muddy field towards a dark shed in fast-dimming light in temperatures so cold you can’t feel your hands, which is probably just as well, because they’ve now got fox shit on them. It’s not like that in Turkey. No wonder the Russians pitch up here half the year now.
The other big draw for competitors to the Antalya stage is the Rixos hotel, a five-star white edifice perched on the clifftop above Konyaalti Beach, and one of the better establishments in the area. There’s a decent pool and a spa, and an OTT approach with the buffet that improves morale all round. I mean, ten different types of olives. At breakfast. Twenty types of cheese (most of which taste the same). That kind of thing. And it’s only a ten minute walk or a three minute bus ride from the competition field.
Not everyone stays there, of course. Less well-heeled teams have to slum it in one of two or three hotels a bit further down the chain. What a shame.
All rooms at the Rixos have balconies. Legend has it that a well-known Korean archer (no clues, but her name rhymes with Three Dough Gray) was once photographed completely in flagrante on her balcony by some post-competition party-goers on a different balcony on the Sunday night – although no-one, naturally, has ever produced this photographic evidence. The Korean team also throw one member of their team into the pool, fully clothed, every year. But this year, the Korean team didn’t turn up.
Another ever-present feature of Turkey is the huge numbers of stray cats and dogs everywhere. Istanbul is famous for them, but they are all over Antalya, too. This fella here (below) was kindly and sleepily guarding the new path that dangles out across the cliff out the back of the Rixos and leads to a lift that takes you down to the beach.
They occasionally had to shoo a couple off the competition field too. You hear the odd howl at night. Poor sods.
They mostly manage to keep the stray dogs out of the Rixos; the cats, however, are small enough to slip in to the hotel restaurant, and pretty much every time you sit down for a meal, a minute or two later you look down and there’s a miaow, and someone wants their cut of your dinner. They also try the old subtly-brush-past-your-leg manoeuvre too. Most of the cats are young. I’m guessing it’s a short life.
So everything settled into familiar patterns. Everyone is familiar with Antalya – some of the peleton have been going here for ten years – and the competition, a vast ante-room for the imminent World Championships, didn’t throw up any massive shocks. Notty’s crew of junior compounders smashed records. A bunch of lesser known Asian nations turned up (both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along with the mildly more familiar Kazakhstan, made an appearance – although not at the business end of things).
The Kazakhstan strip has a giant oversize ‘KZ’ logo on it. It reminds me a little of the knockoff Calvin Klein t-shirts you used to see down Chapel Market in the 1990s. It’s absolutely brilliant. More of this sort of ostentatious thing. (Although archery does need an equivalent of Kit Crimes.)
The last couple of days, when the circus moves to the beach, saw some really strong competition and some exciting matches. Like, actual tension. Yes. As a TV spectacle it is constantly improving, but the magic happens when the sport throws up something that pushes people into critical situations. (It was more often than not the bronze matches that caught the attention this year).
Watching Brady Ellison was the most remarkable of all. He seems to have slipped into a kind of god-mode recently. Before he went out for the gold medal match, he claimed to have shot eight thirties in a row on the practice range. It seemed likely. As in Medellin, there was a sense of unstoppability. No one else could really come close. Watching him, I was reminded of one of the best archery quotes of all, by the 2008 Olympic champion Zhang JuanJuan:
The most important thing is having a strong basic technique and movement. Having said that, what makes an archer a champion is their psychological strength – and confidence – because this is what gives them the ability to control a match. You need to have heart as an archer and an athlete. This is what really makes the difference.Zhang JuanJuan
I didn’t pick him for the Worlds before, but I do now. None of the serious Asian or European challengers for the title will get past him , if he can keep that momentum going. It’s not just score. There’s an increasing presence about the man. (In other circles, it’s called… this). It would be well deserved if he managed it, of course.
But the Worlds have a history of surprising everybody.
Thanks to all the team(s): my team, your team, their team.
45 years ago, the World Archery Championships were held in Grenoble, France. I came across these photos from the archive of Mikhail Peunov, who competed for the Soviet Union at the 1972 Olympics, finishing 12th. They were uploaded by Seva Masyakin on the fabulous 1960s and 1970s Archery page on Facebook, and I have added some of his annotations. They evoke a very different era of archery indeed.
Read more about the 1973 edition here.
BONUS: scroll to the bottom for the 1973 Yamaha catalogue, with thanks to Berny ‘Archery Duns’ Trace.
The news this morning that the 74 year old pensioner shot with a crossbow bolt on Good Friday has died is the latest and most appalling in a long line of recent incidents with crossbows in the UK. Easy to buy on the internet, and popular with people looking for an no-training weapon in a country that has very strict gun legislation, crossbows have been the idiot’s choice for decades. Of course, there have been accidents with bows and arrows, but the learning curve puts off the very worst kind of idiot. Not so with crossbows, unfortunately.
Usually, when something stupid happens with a crossbow, the press distinguish it from archery and bows. But not always. This idiot, for example, actually used a crossbow. Every time they do, the sport loses out. And in other countries, there have been broad-brush approaches to banning archery as a fellow traveller to other people’s idiocy.
Crossbows are not ‘archery’. The narrow definition of archery is a bow and an arrow, whereas a crossbow fires a bolt. Taking a broader perspective, crossbow shooting shares elements with archery (especially historically), and some elements with gun/rifle shooting, but at the same time it is neither of those things. It sits awkwardly across the two.
There is a small but very dedicated target crossbow shooting sector in the UK, but only in a few tiny corners of the target archery world do bows and crossbows stand together. ArcheryGB covers crossbows in their rules of shooting, although they certainly don’t shout about it. They are banned on a very large number of archery ranges.
In my capacity as an British archery journo, about a year ago I was asked to go on BBC Radio as part of a debate with a regional MP who wanted crossbows further restricted from sale, after a previous incident. It was entirely clear from the tone of the email that they wanted someone from the ‘archery’ world who could provide a pro-crossbow point-of-view, in the name of the essential ‘balance’ that these things invariably require. I was more annoyed that someone could conflate the two things, although I don’t blame the harassed researcher directly. (I politely declined).
I’ve occasionally had messages from arbalists believing that we should all stand together as bow-shooting sports or what have you. The problem with this is that archery as a sport has maintained, in the public’s eyes, a near spotless image recently, contributing to its rise in the last few years, and the associated TV exposure and so on. Crossbows remain associated with appalling news headlines and criminality, and subject to range bans and increasing legislation. Which is a shame. But not surprising.
I am absolutely sure all the dedicated crossbow target shooters out there are committed to the sport, and to safety and to maintaining a safe image. Good luck out there.
Sorry guys, but in 2019, you’re on your own. Archery has everything to lose and little to gain from having you in the fold. It’s not because of you, per se. Unfortunately, it’s because there are too many idiots in the world.
At last year’s Berlin World Cup, Chinese Taipei took a major Korean tournament scalp when their men’s team beat the guys in white with a spectacular final ten from anchor Wei Chun Heng – a match-up repeated, with the same result, for far higher stakes at last year’s Asian Games in Jakarta.
This year once again, in Shanghai, the boys in blue triumphed again over the boys in white – this time in a World Cup semifinal. The jewel in the Taipei crown used to be their recurve women’s team. Now, it’s looking like the men, singing aside.
After following this sport for many years I can now hum the national anthem of the Republic of Korea on cue, but I had never heard the Chinese Taipei national anthem. It turned out to be serviceable, generic, and forgettable. Which is not that surprising, because ultimately it is a placeholder, or perhaps a kind of musical fig leaf. The anthem, the flag and the name ‘Chinese Taipei’ are all deliberately and carefully chosen to not quite mean anything at all.
The island of Taiwan as an independent entity became so after a civil war in China that raged in the late 1940s, and the mainland People’s Republic of China has never recognised the island, 110 miles off the coast, as a legitimate state.
The history of relations could fill several books, but the PRC has maintained its ‘One China’ stance for many decades, and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any country that recognises the Republic Of China, aka Taiwan, as an independent state. You say Taiwan exists, its bye bye trade, travel and everything else from mainland China. Because of this very real (and frequently carried out) threat, Taiwan today is still not officially recognised as an independent nation by most countries in the world, apart from a handful of developing countries and the Vatican, for reasons you can delve into yourself.
In practice, most developed nations maintain some kind of de facto diplomatic mission in Taiwan under the guise of a ‘trade federation’ or similar. An occasionally tense state of geopolitical equilibrium has developed, which appears to suit everyone in one way or another.
Cross-strait relations even spilled into archery. The former FITA president Francesco Gnecchi-Ruscone recounts a cunning bit of politicking he had to do involving Taiwan and mainland China in the 1970s, which you can find on the World Archery website. But in 1979, a cultural breakthrough happened when the International Olympic Committee passed what is known as the Nagoya Resolution, which allowed Taiwan to participate in Olympic sport.
To do so under the name ‘Taiwan’ would invite political disaster. The name Chinese Taipei was carefully chosen and negotiated to be deliberately ambiguous, implying it could be part of mainland China, yet separate – but perhaps not subordinate. (Taipei City is the Taiwanese capital). The name only exists in English; helpfully, the word ‘Chinese’ can refer to nations or just culture. A similarly ambiguous flag was developed with the Olympic rings, and a forgotten tune – not the official national anthem of Taiwan – was recycled as a ‘flag anthem‘, with new words stridently praising Olympism.
In Taiwan itself, out of direct edict or national pride, you will never see the words ‘Chinese Taipei’. The archery team’s international achievements are well-publicised, and their newspapers loudly trump: ‘Taiwanese archers won a medal…’ ‘Taiwan triumphs at World Cup….’.
The subterfuge may be accepted, but it is rarely mentioned, at least not in their English-language press. Issues of nationalism and independence continue to bubble away on both sides of the strait, and may not be resolved for many decades yet, despite the occasional recent bit of sabre-rattling.
I once asked a well-known member of the squad, via a translator, a roundabout question about what it was like to represent ‘Chinese Taipei’ and got a polite smile and a shake of the head ; unsurprisingly, there was absolutely zero chance of them talking about it.
For recurve archers, and many athletes, representing your country in the Olympics or another major tournament is the pinnacle of the sport. I don’t know what it feels like, when the current world number two team win and have to stand up in front of a flag and an anthem which represents a series of complicated, delicate political compromises, rather than themselves and whatever their sense of nationhood is. But I’d be interested to find out.
A version of this article originally appeared in Bow International magazine.