It was not a regular sight. A country obsessed with bat and ball, there was no sign of any. Children who were supposed to spend their precious playing time with bat and ball were busy practising with bows and arrows. It was systematic chaos at the Shahid Ahsanulla Master Stadium, the hub for country's archery.
Not only they were practising with the ancient weapon turned sporting equipment, all of them looked serious and determined.
Children, teens and youths all were busy hitting the target board perfectly. The focus, the intent and the determination to be the best at what they were doing was all there.
The man behind the success
The sudden boom in this sport was not surprising.
Kazi Razib Uddin Ahmed, general secretary of Bangladesh Archery Federation knew that the sport can gain popularity in the country.
"Culturally, we have a liking for bows and arrows. I never doubted archery's popularity. Traditionally, bows and arrows are tethered in the sub-continental folklore. Though the sport was new to the area, the idea was not." Razib told The Business Standard.
Yes, there was a lot of demon hunting and fighting the evil with bows and arrows in the sub-continental mythology and folklore. But to get inspired by storybooks and being the best in a sport are two different things.
The role of Razib is undeniable behind the popularity in archery. Popular amongst archers as "Chapal Bhai", Razib first got a glimpse of the sport in Sydney Olympics of 2000.
From then till now, he almost single-handedly changed the fate of the sport in the country.
"No one can establish a sport alone. I had my co-workers and colleagues. Some of them I can name, and some I cannot. But all of them contributed to the success we have now," a very humble and grateful Razib remembered co-fighters from the days of the initial struggle.
From bows and arrows made of bamboo and jute twines to one of the best in the sport in the region, Bangladeshi archers have come a long way. A highly successful South Asian Games 2019, where Bangladesh had a clean sweep of 10 out of 10 gold medals, proves that the sport has moved forward in the last two decades.
"When you dream about something, then you have to believe in it. I always believed that we could do well in archery. I am very happy that the sport is getting so much attention," Razib added with elation.
Youngsters picking up bows and arrows
Not only the administrators, but the participants of the sport are also happy with the current predicaments. In a country where sports like football and cricket dominate public interest, youngsters are suddenly focusing on archery.
Raqibul Islam is one of those youngsters. The 14-year-old Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishthan (BKSP) student never heard about the sport but took a liking towards it after hearing the success stories.
"I never heard of archery. But after my enrolment at BKSP, I started liking the game and took it up seriously. Now I want to be one of the best and my initial target is to participate regularly in competitions. If I perform consistently, I may then get a chance to play in the 2022 Youth Olympics," Raqib, who had set some serious ambitions for himself, told The Business Standard.
Likewise, Diya Siddique, another young archer from BKSP who is all set to appear for the Secondary School Certificate examinations next year, had her eyes fixed on the world stage.
"I wanted to participate in the upcoming world youth games, but I will be over 18 by then. So, now I want to practice for the upcoming world youth championships," she said.
Diya's teammate in archery, Rojoni Akter, also shares the same ambition of making it to the global stage. She surprised herself in the recently concluded National Archery Championships.
"I never thought I could make the final cut for the BKSP team. But I shot well and got a chance in the team. Now, my aim is to improve myself and represent Bangladesh at national and international levels," said Rojoni.
Also, a lot of young girls are taking up the sport. The popularity is attracting a considerable number of new archers now.
"There used to be hardly 40-50 archers participating in the National Championships before, but this year there were more than a hundred registered participants," added Diya.
This influx of new talent only can bring the sport a lot of good, thinks one of the best female archers of the country, Beauty Ray.
According to her, ladies should participate more.
"This game was not popular, but now it is grabbing a lot of attention. This is great to see. I hope we get more players. Especially this exposure should encourage the ladies," she said.
The Ruman Sana effect
Of course, the nationwide interest regarding archery was due to the success of one man, Ruman Sana.
The 24-year-old has captured the imagination not only of the fans but his peers also. Youngsters like Rakibul, Diya, and Rojoni could dream to make it big in archery because of Ruman.
Every child with a pair of bow and arrow in his or her hands wants to emulate Ruman's success.
Ruman created a nationwide stir after qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics directly, and he did so with a bronze-medal winning feat in the World Archery Championships in the Netherlands.
All of Ruman's contemporaries see him as a stalwart and try to emulate his success. One of the pioneers and senior to Ruman, Beauty Ray, said she was inspired by him.
"Ruman is a world-class talent. We learn a lot from him. The way he is improving and getting results, we hope he can get an Olympic medal," said the South Asian Games medal winner.
The champion archer himself is also happy to see the increasing involvement of the youth in the sport.
"In the recent National Championship Sakib (Sakib Molla) defeated me, which is a positive sign and it proves that they are ready to take the sport further and I hope to see better archers than me emerging from Bangladesh in the near future." expressed a very optimistic Ruman Sana.
The Archery Federation is happy to their best talent getting the due recognition worldwide. However, Kazi Razib wanted to remind everyone of the contribution of Ruman's predecessors.
"Ruman is doing great for himself. He is reaping the benefit of his predecessors like Milon, who did not get so much attention. But Ruman is getting the due attention he deserves and I am happy for him," Razib said.
The growing optimism
Ruman, surprisingly, did not win an individual medal at the recently-concluded National Championships. To the National Head Coach, Martin Frederick, this is a sign of improvement and the tough competition that already exists in the local archery circuit.
"Ruman was beaten in the individual event. It proves that there are a lot of talents on show. It also proves that we have some good young players, who are knocking on the door of the national team," said an optimistic Frederick.
His optimism, however, was not biased but based on the current scenario of archery. Frederick thought Bangladesh Archery Federation has developed a great system, which can ensure future success.
"We have better possibilities to gain global success compared to other countries. Here, we have a professional structure. We have the army, the air force, and the BKSP for young talents. For sure, we have the potential but we need some fine-tuning. We need to give the archers specific targets and goals so that they can improve," added Frederick.
With all things said and done, the upcoming year will be very crucial for the sport in Bangladesh. Keeping aside Ruman Sana's stint at Tokyo 2020, there are quite a few global tournaments for the archers.
There will be the World Cup Stage 1 tournament in Guatemala from April 20-26 next year. Then there will be an Olympic team qualification event in Berlin from June 22–28.
There was a time when Bangladesh used to participate in these global qualifiers for the sake of participating. But now, the archers will go there to rub shoulders with the very best of the world.
The last decade in sports in Bangladesh belonged undoubtedly to cricket. On-field prowess of the likes of Shakib, Tamim, Mashrafe and Mushfiq has turned the game into a national obsession.
The next decade, however, promises to be something different. If the World Championships and Olympics fetch the overdue success, archery might well be the go-to obsession for a sports-loving nation for the next 10 years.