The respect Gurbax Singh Sandhu commands among boxers is phenomenal. After all, he is not just another ‘coach’ taking care of his wards for a particular tournament – he has served as the head coach of the Indian boxing team for close to two decades now since first taking charge in 1993. Boxers all across the country have plenty of admiration for Sandhu, who toils behind the scenes to make things ‘happen’ in the ring for India. His biggest achievement in his coaching career was producing India’s first Olympic boxing medal through Vijender Singh at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Dronacharya awardee coach spoke to Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview.
Q First of tell us how are the preparations going on for the Incheon Asian Games?
All our boxers are working hard – we delivered a phenomenal performance in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where we scooped up five medals, including four silver medals. Both our men and women pugilists really performed above expectations given that our team hardly had any exposure tours before the event – it was the first time ever four Indian boxers had reached the final of the CWG.
Q What kind of medal haul you are looking at the Incheon Asian Games?
It’s difficult to say how many medals India can win in Incheon, but I can for sure say that our boxers won’t disappoint. All countries will be well prepared for the Games. Hosts Korea will pose a big threat – they always have a formidable line-up of boxers and by virtue of being the hosts they will be even more dangerous. Kazakhstan’s boxers are really solid and so are boxers from Japan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Philippines also have decent boxers in the lower weight categories.
Q The Indian boxing has been through a tough time with the International Boxing Association (AIBA) banning the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) and later the Sports Ministry derecognising the national body. Given this scenario, how would you assess the state of Indian boxing?
There is no doubt that our boxers had a tough time as they were unable to take part in international competitions under the national flag. Look, the only way to evaluate the boxers is to see them play in tournaments and since we did not have any exposure trip before the Commonwealth Games, it was difficult to know where we stand on the world stage. Despite all the odds, I believe Indian boxing in good health and have shown plenty of promise for the future. All the credit for the good health of Indian boxing must go to our boxers, the Sports Ministry, SAI and our boxing federation.
Q Star boxer Vijender Singh is missing the Asian Games owing to a hand injury. Is it a blow to the Indian contingent?
See, every boxer has a role and responsibility in the team, Vijender is an iconic boxer and has won the country’s first Olympic boxing medal. Not having him in Incheon is disappointing, but then we have Vikas Krishnan replacing him in the 75-kg category – remember Vikas had won the gold in the 2010 Asian Games in the lightweight (60-kg) category.
Q The Asian Games will mark a comeback for Akhil Kumar, who stunned the world champion en route to a quarterfinal appearance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Your thoughts.
It’s great to see Akhil in the national colours – he is very aggressive and will be out to prove a point. Having said that, I must say making a comeback is never easy – hopefully Akhil will live up to the expectations.
Q Haryana has seen boxers mushrooming from all corners of the state as compared to other states. Why is that other states are not able to churn out quality boxers in good numbers?
The Haryana government is perhaps the only one to announce cash awards for all state athletes, not just boxers. Look at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the state government announced cash awards of Rs 1 crore, Rs 50 lakh and Rs 25 lakh for gold, silver and bronze medal winners – what’s more the government announced a cash award of Rs 5 lakh for all state participants, let alone medal winners. Such massive encouragement from the state government is bound spur youngsters to chase glory as they know cash awards and a secure job is not beyond them if they win a medal in any international competition. The cash incentives from the government have been a big factor in more boxers springing up from Haryana.
Q It is fair to say that the Indian boxers command respect among opponents in the ring although we are far away from powerhouse like Cuba?
Cuba have a rich legacy in boxing and India to be honest are still not there, but yes ever since Vijender won the country’s first Olympic boxing medal things have changed. Now, opponents know if they are up against an Indian boxer they are in for a tough fight. As I have said before, Indian boxing is on a sound footing.
Q You have served the national boxing coach for close to two decades now starting in 1993. You were given a contract extension last year till the 2016 Rio Olympics.
I wanted to step down last year, but the boxing federation, SAI and Sports Ministry wanted me to continue. I will help my team to make a podium finish at the Rio Olympics. As far as my coaching future is concerned, all I want to say is that I will never be a burden on Indian boxing.Published 20 Sep 2014, 18:23 IST