Younten Tshedup 

The national sport is entertaining. It is also dangerous.

On November 14, a 36-year-old man was hit by an arrow on the head during a friendly archery tournament in Doongna, Chukha. The man succumbed to his injuries two days later.

Mishap in archery tournaments is all too frequent.

A medical officer with the national referral hospital in Thimphu said that, on an average, at least 10 cases of injuries from stray arrows are reported at the hospital every year.

The numbers do not include those that are treated at dzongkhag hospitals and BHUs.

Recently, a young man was also brought to the hospital’s emergency department with an arrow in one of his eyes.

A doctor said that safety was a major concern with archery, the national sport. The same concern has persisted at least a decade now.

Lack of safety measures at archery ranges and carelessness of players make the sport dangerous.

Going by the record, archery mishaps happen mostly during holidays and festivals such as losar.

In the hands of careless archers, compound and traditional bamboo-made bows are equally dangerous.

If traditional arrows are sharper, arrows thrown from a compound bow have more power; for better accuracy, they are Bhutanese archers’ favoured equipment.

“We have lost so many young lives to this game,” said the doctor. “Fatality is more when an arrow hits the heart, chest and the head. Even if the arrow is removed, not many survive.”

Significantly, records show that not many injuries are reported from organised and professional tournaments. Doctors say that injury cases come from events that typically involve beginners and amateur players.

Intoxication is another problem associated with the sport.

Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA) regulations do not allow intoxication during a game. But drinking and archery in Bhutan has an inextricable link.

Tashi, an archer, said that it was customary for people to drink alcohol during an archery game. Archery is more than mere sport in Bhutan; it’s culture steeped deeply in tradition and religious beliefs.

Deities have to be invoked and alcohol has to be there, he said.

A quintessential belief among the Bhutanese archers is that if you do not drink there is no fun and you can’t find the target.


The cost 

No doubt injuries are costly.

Since November 2015, the health ministry has airlifted six arrow injury cases from places as far as Lunana.

The cost incurred for every evacuation (per hour) is Nu 150,000. For a single evacuation, on an average, it takes about two hours.

Although the exact figures were unavailable for the need of more time, health officials said that about five arrow injury cases had to be referred to India in the recent years.

Could technology make the sport safer?

The general agreement is that installation of cameras could guide archers and go a long way in reducing mishaps.