Rio 2016: Despite failing to win a medal, India's boxers deserve our applause
Rio 2016 has been a disaster so far for the Indian contingent if medals are what you are after. But there have certainly been many positives in the games too. To start off, the sheer size of the Indian contingent has been a positive to take for sure. Boasting 119 athletes, this is the largest contingent of athletes India has ever sent to the Olympic games in history.
Dipa Karmakar’s performance in gymnastics has been a pleasant surprise to many in the sporting fraternity as well. Despite just missing out on a medal, the Tripura girl finished fourth in a field consisting of the top gymnasts in the world. More importantly, she has brought Indian gymnastics to the world, and also to every household in the country.
But our boxing team has been somewhat disappointing according to some sports fans. Maybe that is down to the fact that we had set our expectations too high. As soon as they qualified for the games, the likes of Shiva Thapa and Vikas Krishan were considered medal contenders and Manoj Kumar was expected to go deep into the tournament as well.
Laishram Devendro Singh’s absence was a bit of a shock as the prodigal light flyweight boxer has been one of the top dogs in the boxing scene for the last couple of years, reaching semifinals of all major tournaments almost consistently. We expected medals from our boxers; after all, they have delivered medals in the last two Olympic games.
Ever since Vijender Singh had set the benchmark at Beijing in 2008 by achieving India’s first ever boxing bronze, a good new group of Indian fighters has taken to the world stage and put India on the boxing world map.
Going into the Olympics, the contingent we had sent would have all been considered medal contenders, but in reality they were not. AIBA, the world governing body of boxing, had banned the Indian Boxing Association in 2012 for not conducting elections as per the rules stated by them. The problems were so deep that at one point it seemed possible that the Indian boxers would have had to compete under the AIBA flag, not allowed to represent India at the Olympic Games – had India not been able to elect an association in time.
Fortunately, the Indian pugilists were cleared in time for the Games, but the damage had already been done.
The likes of Vikas, Shiva and Manoj received little or no support – they didn’t even have proper coaching staff heading into the Games. India had eight Olympic boxers in 2012, including the much celebrated Mary Kom who had won the bronze medal. This time, they had three. And that was down to the messy administration surrounding the sport in India since 2012.
Another worrying issue has been the fact that India have not had any new faces come into the boxing scene since 2012- the same faces who were there in 2012 are there now. This is because of the fact that there have been no national boxing trials in the last four years.
Due to the absence of a proper association, India has not been able to bring forward the next generation of boxers to the world stage. The situation affected the presence of appropriate judges as well, as a suspended federation is not even allowed to field a judge in an AIBA tournament,
Considering what they have been through, to get as far as they have, Shiva Thapa, Manoj Kumar and especially Vikas Krishan have not let us down. They would have probably been medal contenders in the sport had the association not been involved in petty politics and had held proper elections. Where other nations have improved, India has slipped down the ladder.
The boxers who have reached the Olympic stage despite the shortcomings have surpassed what was expected of them. They would have been forgiven for getting lost in the mess within the system, ending their careers on an abysmally low note. But instead they fought on the biggest stage in the world; by reaching as far as they have in the competition, they have achieved something improbable already.
But that leads us to an important question. What if the boxers were given proper coaching and training facilities? Where would they have been? Maybe among the medals. We’ll never know.