Putting down his cigarette, Beijing native Chen Ning arches his back to stretch and then nonchalantly exhales a tube of
smoke as he draws back the bowstring. Ping goes the release followed by a whoosh and then a thud in quick succession. It’s all one sound. He takes another arrow from the miniature golf-bag sized fanny pack drooped around his waist and takes aim: Ping-whoosh-thud… bull’s eye. That’s 10 points on the target. Chen, 33, revisits the cigarette once again, a look of satisfaction on his face.
“China is not taking care of archery at all. It’s really quite pathetic,” Chen fumes between drags. Chen is one of roughly 1,000 fee-paying members at Beijing’s Sunny Focus Sports Club in Sanyuanqiao, Chaoyang district. It’s one of the few places with comprehensive indoor archery facilities in the city center.
Chen says that despite the large number of archery lovers in China, the government is doing very little in terms of funding and promotion for the sport. He laments that archery still falls short of making broadcast schedules for terrestrial television. “It’s not exactly like football,” he notes glumly.
In some ways, it is surprising that Chinese archery has not become a hit with the public. The sport received a natural upsurge in popularity during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when Shandong native Zhang Juanjuan became the first non-Korean since 1984 to win gold in the women’s individual event. Last summer in London, archer Dai Xiaoxiang became the first Chinese male to win a medal in the men’s individual event.
But for those smitten with the primitive weapon, widespread media coverage once every four years is nowhere near enough. According to Chen, compared with other countries, archery in China has yet to receive sufficient media exposure to entice sponsorship money that could help recruit and nurture talent at club level. Apart from the national teams, the sport is still very much a self-funded amateur endeavor. Clubs like Sunny Focus are thriving on the passion of their members.
“We spend our own money to take part in our own competitions,” Chen says. “The entrance fees pay for the trophies awarded to the winners.”