The Indian boxers will have to contend with much more than their opponents’ punches as they prepare for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow from July 23rd.
Stuck in a power struggle within the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF), which saw the federation being banned by the International Boxing Association (AIBA), the pugilists were unable to participate in foreign tours for a while, which might have hampered their CWG preparations.
Uncertainty and doubt surround the country’s hopefuls
Accusing IABF of manipulating its elections in 2012, the AIBA suspended the Indian boxers from representing India in international events although they were later allowed to participate under the AIBA flag and not the tricolour.
On 20th May 2014, almost two years after the imposing of the ban, the AIBA finally lifted the ban and recognised a new body – Boxing India.
It should be noted that such controversies between the international and national federation aren’t anything new. At the 2012 London Olympics, India's Vikas Krishan (69kg) won his pre quarterfinal bout against Errol Spence of USA 13-11, but a series of appeals by USA accusing the reference of overseeing some points made AIBA overturn the decision and award the fight to Spence 15-13. It goes without saying that the Indian federation wasn't amused.
The boxers have been unnafected by the controversies
Ringside however, the Indians have not let these controversies affect their performances and have put up a brave fight. A case in point is the FXTM International Boxing Cup held in Limassol, Cyprus in 2013 where they notched up 10 medals (four gold, three silver and three bronze), making it one of India's biggest performances in the international arena.
The Indians followed that up with an equally impressive performance in the Asian Boxing Championships held later that year in Amman, Jordan. With Shiv Thapa (52kg) winning gold and Mandeep Jhangra following his Boxing Cup gold with a silver at the Asians, India,with a tally of 4 medals, finished joint second with Uzbekistan amongst 28 nations.
The Indians were allowed to compete in the World Boxing Championships under the tricolour flag. Although the event fetched the country no medals, the national coach Gurbax Sandhu was glad that despite the controversies surrounding the game, five boxers managed to reach the quarterfinals at the event held in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
It all began with Vijender
Boxing came into the limelight at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Vijender Singh, the boxer from Bhiwani, punched his way to a bronze medal in the 75kg category, giving the nation its first medal in the sport. He followed it up with a bronze at the CWG in Delhi and a gold at the Asiad, where he fought bravely despite a broken thumb.
Vijender’s exploits led many to take up the sport and was perhaps one of the inspirations for Mary Kom to win a bronze at the London Olympics where women's boxing made its debut.
The CWG in Delhi was a watershed moment for boxing as it fetched the nation seven medals with three golds. Nine medals followed in the Asian Games at Guangzhou, catapulting the sport into the minds of the audience.
CWG 2014 medal prospects
The Indian men's team that has travelled to Glasgow is a blend of youth and experience, with the likes of Devendra Singh (49 kg) and Shiva Thapa hoping to do India proud. They both are ranked No. 3 in their weight categories.
Devendra baged silver at the Asian Championships and won a bronze at the Boxing Cup in Cyprus, but missed the World Cup due to an injury. In February 2014 he won gold at the Bocskai Tournament in Hungary and he is sure of good performances at both the CWG and the Asiad to be held at Icheon later this year.
Shiva Thapa got another feather in his cap when he along with Sumit Sangwan became the only Indians to get a contract with World Series of Boxing, an international boxing competition organised by AIBA. Thapa represented USA but couldn't live up to the expectations.
Manoj Kumar (64kg) is another boxer who will want to replicate his gold winning performance at Delhi in Glasgow. The World No. 8 won silver in the Asians, losing a close bout to the top seed Mongolian Erdene.
The rest of the 8-member team is comprised of Mandeep Jhangra (69 kg), Sumit Sangwan (81 kg), Praveen More (91kg) and Amanpreet (91kg), with the squad missing out on Dinesh Kumar who suffered a road accident a month ago.
Sandhu is optimistic that women's boxing too will make a mark at the event. Making its debut at the Games, the 3-member Indian team will be sans Mary Kom who was outwitted by Pinki Jhangra in the trials. Sarita Devi (60kg) and Pooja Rani (75kg) complete the team.
The boxers will look to fight all battles
The Indian team doesn’t lack talent, but will have to face a number of obstacles in their path to glory. In addition to the whole uncertainty about the federation, this is the first time the players will play without headgear, as per a new rule designed to make the sport more professional. The new scoring system, with a 10 point must system and five judges, will also likely prove to be a big challenge.
But Vijender, on his part, is confident the boxers will fight all odds and rise to the occasion once again. And a country of a billion plus will be fervently hoping that Vijender’s confidence is not misplaced.Published 23 Jul 2014, 13:20 IST