Nick Butler
Nick ButlerFrom Katniss to Princess Merida, via Legolas, Robin Hood and Green Arrow, it is fair to say that few other sports boast as large a big screen presence as archery.

While the sport in a competitive sense is slightly different to its Hollywood portrayal, there is no doubt that reaching out to people familiar with bow and arrows from the movies is an obvious marketing strategy for the sport's governing body, World Archery.

In an age of reform in the Olympic Movement, where making your sport stand-out is more important than ever, this is archery's unique selling point. Its golden arrow destined for the target.

Turnout at the Vegas Shoot in February, the world's largest indoor tournament that is held alongside the Las Vegas World Archery Indoor World Cup, suggests this is already happening, with a record number of 2,200 archers registering for this year's event with the highest proportion coming from younger age categories.

So in the oh-so-often uttered words of International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, this is a way of boosting participation levels and "getting the couch potatoes off the couch". Even if watching films on the couch may have got them interested in the first place...

Although he came perilously close to squirming when the question of a quiz, currently doing the rounds on the internet, entitled "Which Hollywood archer are you?" was raised - I came out as "The Avengers" character Hawkeye, for the record - World Archery President Uğur Erdener also admits this is a strong way to boost the image of the sport.

"If Hollywood shortly uses some archery details and arguments, then it is good for my sports popularity," he told insidethegames. "Because, after watching something on film or in a television series, we have an increased number of new athletes."

"It is good for our popularity and, indirectly, for our attractiveness."

Making use of the profile generated by bow and arrow clad Hollywood star such as Hawkeye could bring new people into the sport ©WikipediaMaking use of the profile generated by bow and arrow clad Hollywood star such as Hawkeye could bring new people into the sport ©Wikipedia

In a more general sense, increasing this "attractiveness" is the major target for the sport, and this has been best illustrated by a large number of innovations introduced in recent years, in a structural, technological and marketing sense.

This includes state-of-the-art tablets with apps that enable to you watch the action as it happens, on a choice of four screens, as well as target and overhead cameras and remote controlled robots to collect arrows. Social media is also key, with World Archery celebrating the fact that they had passed 100,000 Facebook likes over the course of this weekend.

"As President Bach showed us in Nanjing [at the Summer Youth Olympic Games], communication technologies are very important for all sports in the Olympic programme," said Erdener, before explaining how his sport is leading the way.

"Archery is a real combined sport - with tradition, history, elegance, precision, integrity, timing, concentration - so many things but attractiveness is the most important part of this.

"We need new and very attractive mobile applications, and we have a young team constantly looking for new ways and new kinds of issues. We have to be more interesting, especially for youngsters. Television interest is also continuously increasing, as is media coverage.

"There is also the World Archery Excellence Centre, which will be built in the next two years in Lausanne, which will be another wonderful opportunity. 

"One of the best examples was at the London 2012 Olympic Games, when, according to all survey results, archery was one of the most popular sports, with satisfaction more than 90 per cent."

If the World Cup Final in Lausanne last weekend was anything to go by, they are finding a strong balance between these innovative elements and more traditional aspects.

The World Cup Final in sunny Lausanne was another strong advertisement for the sport ©Getty ImagesThe World Cup Final in sunny Lausanne was another strong advertisement for the sport ©Getty Images

Held in scorching conditions on a makeshift "field" just a well-aimed arrow away from boats sailing past on Lake Geneva, the choice of setting followed in the footsteps of other recent iconic locations, from Lords Cricket Ground for London 2012 to underneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris for the 2013 World Cup Final.

Like virtually every other sport, music between shots is one of these new editions, and, while I am not sure if Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" at such a crucial point in the men's recurve final was really necessary, there is no doubt this boosts excitement level. This was blended with Archie the mascot, match commentators in English and French, and more traditional entertainment in the shape of an "Alpine Horns" musical ensemble.

Changes in the match format have also occurred, with a best of five-set system introduced into the Olympic recurve category increasing unpredictability and meaning a far higher proportion of matches end in a shootoff,

In comparison, the format in the more accurate compound division remains a simple highest-score-after-15 arrows-wins format. With the even-higher standard of shooting meaning a single sub-par shot could effectively cost you the match, this reminded me of Twenty20 cricket to recurve's, albeit still fairly rapid, Test format. The principal problem with this analogy being that, in contrast to the cricketing events, it is the compound event which attracts the purists and recurve which reaches out more to the masses.

Given the IOC's current reluctance to add new disciplines within existing sports, it is unlikely the compound bow will be added to the Olympic programme in the short or medium term, but this is the ultimate aim. And featuring for the first time at an Asian Games in Incheon later this month will provide another step forward, with addition to the programme for a future European Games another more realistic target.

But, because it could be added without requiring any more participants, it is hoped the mixed team recurve competition will soon be showcased on the biggest stage.

"Mixed team is one of our important ideas," Erdener told insidethegames. "We tried it at the first version of the Youth Olympics in Singapore, and, after having very good results and input, it was held again in Nanjing.

"We have proposed this category to the IOC for inclusion in Tokyo 2020, and expect that it will bring more attractiveness to the Olympic programme.

"It is another opportunity for good communication between athletes."

Given the fact that the Swiss hosts were resolutely swept aside by a world-class Mexican outfit in Lausanne, the mixed team competition was something of a damp squib. But it worth noting that IOC President Thomas Bach arrived to watch just in time to catch the mixed team final, and, once again, it is a concept firmly in line with the current zeitgeist in IOC circles.

World Archery President Uğur Erdener and IOC boss Thomas Bach watching the archery ©World ArcheryWorld Archery President Uğur Erdener and IOC boss Thomas Bach watching the archery ©World Archery

Given that he is also a member of the IOC's ruling Executive Board and the chair of the IOC Medical Commission, not to mention the Turkish Olympic Committee chief and a prominent member of both the World Anti Doping Agency and the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, having Dr Erdener at the helm of the sport is a major boost.

But there are other challenges for the sport looking forward. Although the attendance in Lausanne was impressive, particularly for the final session in which recurve finals took place, for all the good promotional work, more needs to be done to compete with spectator-levels in the biggest Olympic sports. Growth in Africa appears another obvious aspiration, particularly because, in comparison with some sports, the equipment and facilities required are relatively limited.

But the success for Colombia, Mexico and Brazil shows a sport this is reaching out into new regions, and in Marcus D'Almeida, the recurve second place finisher in Lausanne, the sport has an arguably even greater icon than any Hollywood archer could provide.

The 16-year-old is a talent of meteoric proportions, already meriting the label in his native Brazil of "archery's Neymar". But he is also a great ambassador for the sport-in-the-making globally, and if he is to win on home turf at Rio 2016, he could very well be the first archery mega-star.

His recent fortunes and strong prospects can be taken as a mirror for the sport as a whole, looking ahead first to the outcome of Olympic Agenda 2020, then to the next year's World Cup Series culminating in the Final in Mexico City, and then Rio 2016.

And by that point, it is possible a new generation of Hunger Games and The Avengers loving enthusiasts may have been inspired into the sport, taking it to even greater heights.

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.