Compound Archery: an Olympic Hopeful?

March 19, 2015, 1:05 p.m. (ET)

What if compound archery was an Olympic event?

The benefits to archery are clear: There would be increased exposure for the sport, and the opportunity for more Olympic archery medals.

After all, archery is archery - no matter what bow we shoot.

But is it even possible for compound archery to become an Olympic event, and if so, what would it take to make that happen? For the first in a series of articles on this very hot topic, we talked with Tom Dielen, the Secretary General of World Archery, which is the international federation for the sport of archery.

Worldwide, is it possible to estimate the percentage of compound archers versus recurve archers? 

 It’s incredibly difficult to count the number of archers worldwide, independent of the bow they shoot: There are all those who shoot casually at a club or aren’t members of a federation, or visit centers or shops.

What we can easily count is the number of elite athletes competing at World Archery events and compare how many of these are compound and how many are recurve.

Over the 2014 season of World Championships (indoor and field) and Archery World Cup stages, we had 909 recurve entries and 653 compound. That’s about a 60:40 split.

In some of our larger member associations (national archery governing bodies), you would find more of a 70:30 split based on participation at national competitions.

We know that the number of casual compound archers is large, especially in North America, but we’re aiming to convert these people into competitors in the sport.

Why hasn't compound archery already been a part of the Olympic Games? 

Compound archery was first included in the World Archery Championships in 1995 – after an introduction in field and indoor disciplines earlier on.

It was only three years before that when World Archery introduced the head-to-head system to recurve archery, a competition format that greatly increased the event’s value to the Olympic Program. 

A first request to include compound into the Olympics was made by Jim Easton in the late 1990s. However, the feedback received at that time was that it was impossible to add athletes, the disciplines were too similar, and that compound lacked universality (appeal and involvement from many different types of countries). What’s more, at that time, the position of archery was not as strong as it is now.

Getting a sport or discipline added to the Olympic Program has not been a quick process. Sports were voted in and out only at meetings held every four years – and there was little turnover.

However, the situation changed slightly last December, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted the Agenda 2020 recommendations that shifted the Olympic Program from sports-based to event-based.

What is World Archery's position on having compound archery added to the Olympic Games? 

World Archery would like to have more archery events and more medals at the Olympic Games. The first goal is to add the mixed team to the recurve event, as this is quota neutral – meaning it does not increase the number of athletes.

It would be fantastic for the sport and its exposure internationally and in individual countries to include compound athletes in the Olympic Games.

There is the example of India at the Asian Games, where compound was introduced for the first time in 2014. The nation made the top 10 rankings thanks to four compound medals in archery. Nowhere does it say whether these were compound or recurve medals; they count just the same, and as archery.

Having said that, compound archery is already in the World Games – a multisport event that has been growing at an exceptional rate. The next edition is scheduled for Wroclaw in 2017, and then the World Games will head to Birmingham, Alabama in the USA for 2021.

At Cali [Colombia] 2013, there were huge, full spectator stands for the compound event. Birmingham 2021 is a real opportunity to showcase the sport – and what’s more, the IOC has signed an agreement to work closer with the World Games as a result of Agenda 2020.

The IOC basically sees the World Games as a test platform for new events. Therefore, we all have huge interest in delivering a great compound event at future World Games. Together with USA Archery, we should aim to have 10,000 spectators watching the finals in Birmingham.

That would send a clear message.

World Archery is also working to have compound added to other Continental Games, following the example of the Asian edition, as another way of increasing visibility.

What are the IOC’s criteria for adding new events? 

There are many areas of assessment for new sports events in the Olympic Games. They range from participation, popularity, gender balance and competition level, to engagement with youth, integrity and individuality. One essential factor is television appeal.

Compound archery has the qualities of an Olympic discipline – but it will be up against tough competition like skateboarding, squash, wakeboarding and 3x3 basketball.

For the 2016 Olympic Games, along with the 26 Summer Olympic sports from London, there were 23 additional requests from sports to join the event. We are not the only ones with great ideas!

Now that we’re excited to see compound archers in the Olympic stadium, what can specifically be done to add compound archery to the Olympic Games? How can archery fans support this effort – and how are governing bodies working to make this change? Keep an eye out for our next article in this series, which will explore next steps for this initiative.