Mantas Balsys: “We are writing the history of crossbow shooting in Lithuania from scratch”
The year 2021 launched with good news - another European country has joined the International Crossbow Shooting Union! Despite strong historical crossbow shooting background, Lithuania has come a long and difficult journey. Lithuania has come through a long way from amendments to current legislation and registration of the kind of sport to official membership in the IAU. Once again, the example of this country proves the theorem that nothing is impossible! The President of the Lithuanian Crossbow Shooting Union Mantas Balsys talked about the future plans and prospects for the development of crossbow shooting in an exclusive interview.
- Please, tell us more about the foundation of the Lithuanian Crossbow Shooting Union. How did this idea come up? How did you overcome difficulties on your way?
- It's been a long time coming for us. The very idea of creating the Lithuanian Crossbow Shooting Union and the development of this sport here in Lithuania arose about 10-15 years ago. But strict laws stopped us. Then if anyone interested was told that it has been necessary to obtain a special permission, to undergo a medical examination like firearm users do, then the interest would immediately fade away. But thanks to cooperative efforts of representatives of the IAU, namely Vladimir Bessonov, and ours, we managed to amend the current legislation of Lithuania. The MEP Rasa Jukneviciene and two-time Olympic champion Virgilijus Alekna also helped us a lot in this matter.
- How popular are shooting kinds of sport in general in Lithuania and crossbow shooting in particular?
- Shooting sport in Lithuania is quite well developed: there are traditions, there are results. For example, we have an Olympic champion in trap shooting. Rifle shooting is widely represented, and, speaking about archery, we have about 14 clubs all over the country. For a small state, this is not enough. Crossbow shooting is still a new sport for us. But I believe that it is very perspective! We are at the very beginning of a long journey, there is much to be done for development and popularization. So far, we have two athletes who train regularly - me and my wife. (laughs) Now we, like, probably, everyone else, are waiting for the end of the pandemic and the beginning of the competitive season. We want to learn, share experiences, develop and only move forward!
- Tell us, how and when did you get acquainted with this sport (crossbow shooting)? What attracted you most in it?
- For about 25 years I have been engaged in archery, constantly participating in international tournaments and events. While taking part in a crossbow shooting competition for the first time, it seemed to me that these kinds of sport are quite similar, in terms of organization. This first face-to-face meeting took place at the European Championships in Pärnu, Estonia. Together with representatives of two more countries, Latvia and Belarus, we went there. Soon, Latvia created its own national crossbow federation. Now it`s our turn. I think that Belarus will also join us in the nearest future. The first thing I noticed is that a large number of seniors participate in the competition. This is an undeniable advantage! In archery competitions this number, let's say, is much smaller than the number of adult athletes.
- As you know, the crossbow is one of the oldest weapons. Perhaps, you know some interesting historical facts about this ancient weapon in your country, do you? How widely was the crossbow distributed in the territory of ancient Lithuania?
- Despite the fact that crossbow shooting as a sport is an innovation for us, the crossbow itself, as an ancient weapon, was widespread in Lithuania. The first mention of the crossbow goes back to the 13th century. Our king Mindaugas hired German crossbowmen, and since then the crossbow entered our history for a long time. It was used both for hunting and for conducting military operations. The crossbow was especially popular in castles, which one can meet a lot in Lithuania. During archaeological excavations of ancient burial mounds that have survived on the territory of modern Lithuania, the tips of crossbow arrows are constantly being found, not archery ones!
- The Lithuanian Crossbow Shooting Union has officially joined the International Crossbow Shooting Union (IAU), and we, of course, have been waiting for you and now we are glad to welcome you! Is the event significant for you? Why?
- We are also very happy to join a large friendly crossbow family! For us it is an opportunity to develop, grow, participate in competitions, hold our own events, raise our athletes, who, I am sure, will represent Lithuania at the highest level competitions in the future.
- The Lithuanian Crossbow Shooting Union is the youngest organization within the International Crossbow Shooting Union (IAU), however, it is very perspective, with a favorable geographical location and developed infrastructure. Please, share your plans for the future development of your organization!
- The development of a sport, both crossbow and any other, always depends on several factors at once. This includes the availability of equipment, the availability of convenient shooting ranges, the possibility and regularity of training, the presence of coaches, clubs, etc. In fact, we are starting from scratch. We are writing the history of crossbow shooting in Lithuania from scratch! The way is not easy, but a journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step. It seems, the first stage is the holding of internal competitions - the national championship. And then, of course, I would like to go on with holding some kind of major tournament - the Baltic Cup, for example, with an invitation to participate. It should be understood that holding sports events is always a big responsibility that requires knowledge, fundament, resources and competent people. For comparison, I can say that during the entire practice of archery sport in Lithuania, there have been no major international tournaments of the level of the World or European Championship. But you need to think positively. Everything has its time. We have many beautiful and interesting places, there is something to see and admire. Crossbow sport definitely causes interest. Now we are focusing all our attention on promotion. We have to tell people what we are, what a new and interesting type of shooting it is.
- The support of local authorities - the Ministry of Sport is also important in this matter.
- Yes, absolutely. One of the main points is the presence of an anti-doping program in the IAU. This indicator is of great importance for the registration of a sport in Lithuania. The amount of state funding for a sport depends on many indicators: how many people are involved in classes, how many schools and clubs are open, what successes in the international arena, and so on. Of course, you cannot compare with playing sports. But we will try.
- So far, you are planning to develop only the Field division, but do you have the Match division in your future plans, if the country's legislation allows, of course?
- While the development of the match crossbow seems difficult. According to the current legislation of Lithuania, a specialized permit is required to use a match crossbow. Let it be for now. But I am not saying that this will not happen! Field today, Match tomorrow. We leave this question for the future. Now all forces are given to the field crossbow, there are prospects and opportunities for development.
- In August 2021, a grandiose event is planned in Ventspils (Latvia) - the World Crossbow Shooting Championship in the Match and Field divisions. Are you planning to participate? Are you going to take part as honor guests or to present the Lithuanian national team in the competition?
- Of course, we are planning! Moreover, we are looking forward to this big event. Gradually we prepare, shoot, develop our skills. We bought crossbows, good, professional ones. We will prepare a national sports uniform and will definitely perform under the Lithuanian flag. We will gain experience, because without international competitions it is simply impossible. So far, due to the pandemic, unfortunately, there is no opportunity to hold training camps, exchange experience even with the closest neighbors from Latvia ... There are plans, we are waiting for the situation to stabilize. Let's hope that soon we will all return to our usual life and will be able to realize all our plans. Good health and strength to all!