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Rio Olympics 2016: The dire state of Indian Boxing

Heading into the Rio Olympics, the state of Indian boxing looks grim. It needs major changes and support to get back on track.

Shiva Thapa
Shiva Thapa is the sole Indian boxer to have qualified for the Olympics

The state of Indian boxing in the last few years has been pretty grim. With the Rio Olympics looming over the horizon, the sport finds itself in a spot of bother. So far, only a single boxer in Shiva Thapa has qualified for the quadrennial event with the final qualifier underway in Baku, Azerbaijan. This is in sharp contrast to the 5-membered contingent that represented India at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 8-membered contingent that travelled to the 2012 London Olympics.

It was at the Beijing Games in 2008 that Vijender Singh won a bronze to become the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in the sport. Subsequently at the 2010 Asian Games, the Indian boxing team won 9 medals in all including 2 golds by Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan Yadav. Furthermore, with Women’s Boxing introduced for the first time at the London Olympics, boxing fetched another medal for India with 5-time World Amateur Boxing Champion MC Mary Kom winning a bronze medal. She further went on to win Gold at the 2014 Asian Games.

And yet, the sport finds itself in the direst of situations with the governing body banned by AIBA, Mary Kom failing to qualify, Vijender Singh turning pro and a host of other reasons that are not uncommon with most sports in India not named Cricket.

Vijender Singh
Vijender Singh earned India its first medal in boxing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

The lack of a governing body to organize the National Championships and provide training facilities and support to the boxers in India is a huge setback in itself. The Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IBF) was banned by AIBA in 2013 owing to manipulation of elections.

This was replaced by another federation, Boxing India, which was formed in 2014 with the elections monitored by the AIBA. However, internal fighting within the federation let to the impeachment of its President Sandeep Jajodia and Secretary Jay Kowli in May 2015 via a No Confidence Motion.

This led to AIBA provisionally suspending Boxing India and placing the administration responsibility of the sport under an ad-hoc committee led by Kishen Narsi, India’s representative at AIBA, till a new body is formed. However, the administrative disputes still persist, which affect the boxers’ morale for they not only have to fight for their livelihood and proper training in the absence of a regulating body, but also are being made to play under the AIBA flag instead of the Indian flag till the formation of a new body.

However, in the absence of a federation, a few institutions such as the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Olympic Gold Quest and JSW Sport are helping the boxers train and prepare for the upcoming Olympics. 27-year old Manoj Kumar, who won the gold medal at the Doha International Boxing Championship last year says, “Currently, we boxers are training under SAI (Sports Authority of India), who are going out of their way to make sure that we get proper training facilities.

“Individually speaking, as long as we don't have the new boxing entity ready, our efforts will never be sufficient. We are trying our best to grab sponsors but without a particular body, even that becomes an issue.”   

With the qualification rules changed this year, and professional boxers being allowed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time, the qualification process has gotten tougher. All this combined with the absence of a governing body has led to an acute shortage of young boxers emerging.

Olympic bronze medallist Mary Kom says, “There is no federation (in India)... there is no proper organised national (event) for the last two-three years. So no competition. If we have more competition, every boxer will train regularly.

Saina Nehwal Mary Kom
Mary Kom (R) and Saina Nehwal flaunt their bronze medal from the 2012 London Olympics

Further, the Indian Boxing League, which was initially announced in 2011 along the lines of the highly successful Indian Premier League (IPL), was shelved for lack of recognition by the AIBA. In hindsight, given the success of the Indian Soccer League (ISL) and the Pro-Kabaddi League in recent years, a boxing league would have both helped the emergence of more boxers and also would have popularized the sport which in turn could have brought in more sponsors for the pugilists.

In spite of the current low being faced by boxing in the country, things are slowly but surely looking brighter. The AIBA has allowed for the participation of the Indian boxers at the Rio Olympics in spite of the postponement of the new federation elections that were to take place on May 14th this year.

Seeing the progress that has been made towards constituting the BFI, the AIBA has agreed to extend the deadline from the previously set date of May 14. They have not given us any specific fresh deadline but have assured that our boxers will not be stopped from competing in the Olympics.” a top official told PTI.

He further added that “AIBA is satisfied with the progress made by Indian boxing fraternity so far as we have taken many steps together in order to reach this stage wherein we now have a properly Registered Federation with 35 out of 36 states/UTs willing to participate.

The country is still hopeful of having further representation at the Rio Olympics with Devendro Singh, Manoj Kumar, Vikas Krishan and Sumit Sangwan still in contention in the final Olympic qualifier taking place in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Vijender Singh’s WBO Asia Pacific Title bout with Kerry Hope on July 16th will most likely see him miss out on the final Olympic qualifiers for pro-boxers at Venezuela from July 3rd-8th despite his recently stated desire to represent the country if presented with a chance.

Hopefully, the sport will see a turn for the good in the coming months leading up to the Rio Olympics and finally embrace its underlying potential in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

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