At the Incheon Asian Games, beginning in two days’ time on September 19, India’s frustrated men and women boxers would try to derive a semblance of sanity after they became pariahs in the eyes of the world boxing community for no fault of their own. It was barely four years ago in the last Games in Guangzhou in 2010 that the boxers from India looked in great spirits and their performance showed that the ensuing years would bring more talent in the boxing ring. But the shady politics and infighting in the ranks of India’s governing body, the Indian Boxing Federation turned the clock backwards. The IBF was slapped a ban by Boxing’s World governing body, AIBA much to the consternation of India’s boxers, who were prevented from participating in international meets. AIBA cited two reasons for imposing the ban; India’s suspension from the IOC and manipulations in the IBF elections. Subsequently, Indian boxers could compete internationally but IBF officials were completely barred from any event. International associations, choosing to allow Indian boxers in any fighting events, were required to ensure that the boxers did not play under the India’s national tricolor. It was such a shame for the innocent Indian boxers.
By a quirk of fate, a new body called Boxing India was formed and they pleaded with the AIBA to recognize the boxers from India on the same keel as their counterparts from other nations. As things stand, Indian boxers will be allowed to participate at the Incheon Asian Games under their national flag after the sport’s amateur world governing body gave provisional recognition to Boxing India on some conditions. AIBA president CK Wu issued a statement recently, stating that Boxing India, has been unanimously approved for provisional membership. The Indian pugilist are a relieved lot after the AIBA announcement since they could play under India colors and India’s national anthem will be rendered during medal ceremonies, if any Indian boxers wins a medal at the Incheon Games.
Despite the good news, Indian boxing is in doldrums since the boxers have lost nearly two years, during which they missed meaningful practice. They have only the Glasgow Commonwealth Games experience in this period. After their ban, even friendly countries like Cuba did not entertain them. Boxing coaches and support staff faced harassment wherever they went. In the Guangzhou Asiad of 2010, India fared pretty well, winning nine medals including two golds, three silvers and four bronzes. This was a phenomenal improvement from their performance at the 2006 Asian Games of Doha, where they had only two bronze medals to show for their participation.
As the Indian pugilists get ready for Incheon, they are certain to feel the heat on account of their long lay-off from international competition. The events of the last two years have had a negative impact on their psyches and the worst part is; it was not their fault. Regardless, they are fighting against all odds and doing their best to put the bad time behind them. Chief coach GS Sandhu feels confident that when the boxers take to the ring in Incheon, they will try to deliver their best performance. Indian boxing squad at Incheon will be without ace boxer Vijender Singh, who has pulled out due to the injuries that he sustained during his bout at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He has been replaced by Vikas Krishan, who is only the second Indian to win a bronze in the recent World Championship meet. Krishnan will compete in the 75 kg category and he looks like an able replacement for Vijender, although he doesn’t have the same experience as his predecessor. Another comeback man in the Indian fold is the 33-year old Akhil Kumar in the 60 Kg category. After a long hiatus, Akhil looks fresh and he is likely to perform well. Other than Krishnan and Akhil Kumar, the men pugilist include; Devendro Singh in 49 Kg, Gaurav Bhandari in 52 Kg, Shiva Thapa in 56 Kg, Manoj Kumar in 64 Kg, Mandeep Singh Jangra in 69 Kg, Kuldeep Singh in 81 Kg and the duo of Amritpreet Singh and Satish Kumar, both in 91 Kg.
Compared to men, India’s women boxers exude more optimism with five-time World Champion and London Olympics bronze medalist Mary Kom returning to the Asiad after missing the Glasgow Games. She is training hard and she has her sights fixed on the gold medal. The Manipuri boxer told media that she was not prepared to settle for anything less than the gold medal. Besides Mary Kom, who competes in the 51 Kg category, other women boxers include; L. Sarita Devi in 60 Kg and Pooja Rani in 75 kg.