Nationals: Rolling with the punches

The National Championship, conducted within a short span of time after the BFI elections in late September, achieved its primary goal of activating a stagnant body and resuming the domestic calendar for the benefit of the boxers. This should put Indian boxing back on track.

Shiva Thapa with his gold medal in the 60 kg category.   -  PTI

Manoj Kumar (red) in action against Duryodhan Singh in the 69 kg final.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

Deepak Singh (right) who won the gold medal in 52 kg, pummels Olympian Devendro Singh.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

The National Boxing Championship, revived by the newly formed Boxing Federation of India (BFI), in Guwahati saw the participation of all the big names barring the World Championship bronze medal winner, Vikas Krishan Yadav, who is training in the United States, and Olympian Sumit Sangwan, who opted out due to an injury.

Unlike in several other sports, including badminton, tennis, wrestling, hockey and, to some extent cricket, where the National championships suffer due to the absence of big stars owing to various reasons, the presence of some well-known boxers — such as World Championship bronze medallist Shiva Thapa, two-time Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Manoj Kumar and Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medallist L. Devendro Singh — gave the Nationals in Guwahati a big boost.

In the past, top-notch boxers used to skip the National Championships, as they were apprehensive about picking up injuries against an inexperienced youngster, who might be eager to cause an upset and make a mark for himself. Poor judging at the Nationals, which might land a reputed boxer on the losing side, was another factor.

However, in Guwahati, it was different.

A new National body, the BFI, was in place after four years of uncertainty following the exclusion of two National federations from the international family. Therefore, everybody wanted a new beginning.

The revival of the National Championship was a big encouragement, and it offered the elite boxers a chance to get a feel of competitive boxing after the Rio Olympics. Some boxers such as Devendro and Manoj sought to switch to higher weight categories after having fought in the 49 kg and 64 kg divisions respectively for several years. They wanted to make a start from the National Championship.

Shiva, who normally competes in the 56 kg category, too, preferred to move up to 60 kg. He faced a stern test. The two-time Olympian bled profusely from a bruised forehead after he was “head-butted” in the quarterfinals. And despite being under pressure from various quarters, including his home supporters, the 23-year-old fought magnificently to win the semifinal and final without aggravating his injury.

This gutsy performance amidst adversity should boost the confidence of Shiva and make him mentally stronger for bigger challenges ahead.

Olympian and Asian Games silver medallist Dinesh Kumar, who was out of action for more than two years due to a career-threatening accident, chose the Nationals to return to the ring in a higher weight (91 kg) category. He won a bronze.

For the youngsters eager to display their talent, it was a great chance. The event witnessed rookies such as Amit Panghal and Deepak Singh emerge as National champions in the 49 kg and 52 kg categories respectively. Amit got the better of Asian youth medallist Shyam Kumar, while Deepak stunned Devendro to take the top honour and claim the Best Boxer award.

“This National Championship has presented so many talented, up-and-coming boxers. Shyam Kumar, Amit, Deepak, Duryodhan Singh (who put up a strong fight against Manoj in the final), Ankush Dahiya (who fought hard against Shiva), the powerful Mohd. Hussamuddin in 56 kg, Thomas Meitei (64 kg) and Manish Panwar (81 kg) are good boxers and can do better in future,” said Vishnu Kutappa, a respected coach.

G. Manoharan, who has been grooming youth boxers for many years, said, “Four years of inaction hampered the boxers’ progress. However, the general standard is good and they can do better with adequate care and exposure.”

The BFI will pick 60-70 boxers, including those who have talent but lost in the initial rounds, for the National camp. In fact, the BFI has made it clear that in future, performance in the National Championship will be considered for selection of boxers for the National camp and international events.

The BFI, nevertheless, has to ensure that bouts are judged properly. Instances of debatable refereeing and judging during the Nationals (women’s event in Haridwar and men’s championship in Guwahati) irked several boxers. It was a matter of concern for the top BFI officials.

One of the primary causes of the problem is the fact that many of the referee-judges are not familiar with the latest changes in International Boxing Association (AIBA) rules. The BFI, which recognises the need to upgrade the knowledge of the ring officials, is hosting the Commissions Meetings in Agra in February to help them familiarise with the changes.

Another glaring concern during the Nationals was the scoring system. After the latest change in the AIBA scoring system, which now takes into account the scores of all five judges instead of the random three picked by the computer, the BFI has been facing some technical issues related to this. It will need some time to rectify the issue.

One of the bright spots of the National Championship was that the BFI, in a first of its kind move, facilitated the election of an athletes’ representative to its Executive Committee. Manoj Kumar was elected with overwhelming majority and he will serve as the athletes’ voice in the National federation.

“There were objections within the boxing family to the inclusion of boxers in the EC. However, we managed to convince all that this was a step forward. The team captains conducted the elections in the most transparent manner and chose Manoj. Now the athletes’ voices will be heard in the federation. Soon, we will push for the election of a female athlete as well,” said the BFI secretary, Jay Kowli.

Overall, the National Championship, conducted within a short span of time after the BFI elections in late September, achieved its primary goal of activating a stagnant body and resuming the domestic calendar for the benefit of the boxers. This should put Indian boxing back on track.