The latest incident of an eleven year old boy being pierced by a stray arrow at an archery range in Haa, once again highlights an increasing number of innocent bystanders regularly falling victims to such ‘accidents’.
Even though the cases being reported in the media are on the rise, the actual numbers would be higher as many such accidents, especially in rural pockets, don’t make it to the news. We also don’t hear about the many close shaves with arrows hitting houses, cars, pedestrians or even entering living rooms.
The problem is at several levels starting from the ranges to how archery matches are being played these days.
A major problem is a proliferation of ad-hoc archery ranges across the country in both rural and urban areas, including even in the capital city of Thimphu.
Almost any open ground or area with enough flying length for an arrow is claimed as an archery ground with apparently no concern for the safety of nearby residents or passer bys.
These ranges often do not have adequate safety measures like high walls behind the targets or a clearance area to ensure that even if a stray arrow does go above the wall nobody would be in the danger of being hit. One example would be the police ground in Thimphu where on one occasion archers were playing a boisterous match just as a wedding with hundreds of guests was going on nearby.
The other problem is that unlike in the past with increasing prosperity more people can afford expensive bows and also have more resources for the game in a time when there is increasingly limited public space.
Any safety expert watching a Bhutanese archery match would be horrified to see players and audiences standing close to the target as archers far away shoot for the small target.
It does not help that some players offer their limbs or at times their rear ends as mock targets in a Bhutanese version of local Mel Gibsons doing a ‘Braveheart’. There was in fact an instance in which a ‘Khuru’ instead of finding its target found the offending rear end that failed to move away in time from the target.
As if matters could not get any worse archery matches seems to be incomplete without alcohol as archers also drink alcohol in the middle of matches. Girls hired for their noise and irritation ability distract archers adding to this deadly mix.
At the end of the day archery is a deadly sport that has killed or injured many. It is now high time that all the relevant authorities come together and draw up safety rules and also monitor safety standards at archery ranges.
Opinion by Tenzing Lamsang