He is well aware of the “disappointments” triggered by a revamped selection policy but Indian boxing’s High-Performance Director, Santiago Nieva, remains unfazed and is hopeful that good performances will convince detractors of the “difficult choices” he is making.
Indian boxing has got a facelift of sorts, with the conventional trials, not the sole criteria for selections anymore. A ranking system, rating boxers on their performances in national and international events including the national camp, has been put in place to pick squads for major events like next month’s Asian Games.
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"There are always disappointments but one has to deal with that. The easy thing to do would have been to go for a trial in all the weight categories. But I believe that having a system of analysing a boxer’s performance over a period of time is a fairer one," Nieva said.
World bronze-medallist Gaurav Bidhuri (56kg) and former Commonwealth Games silver-winner Mandeep Jangra (69kg) felt they were hard done by after the duo was sidelined from the Asiad squad without trials.
"The tough part is to deal with individual disappointments but it is part of my job profile to ensure that nobody loses the zeal to continue," said the Argentine-born Swede.
"I talk to them regularly, explain to them why it is necessary for them to be at their best at all times instead of just before a trial. That way, I can extract better performances from them," he explained.
"(But) I believe avoiding choices is also a choice and that is the worst choice," reasoned Nieva.
The Commonwealth Games squad - picked almost entirely on the basis of a ranking system barring a couple of weight categories - fetched eight medals in the men’s competition and Nieva is hopeful that a good medal haul in the Asian Games would go some way in convincing the critics of his decisions.
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"I am not against trials, but I am against trials being the only means to select a team. I believe, overall sparring discipline in the camp, performances in international and national tournaments should form the basis of selection," he noted before adding, "And in weight categories, where it is too close to call, I am all for having trials between the top two,"
“Take for instance football, you have a squad of 23 going to the World Cup, do all of them play? The call on the best XI is taken after considering a number of factors.
"You have three goalkeepers but the first choice is just one, does it mean that the other two would stop playing? Of course not because that’s what makes one an athlete, to constantly strive for more."
Warming up for the Asiad
Laying out his plans for the Asiad-bound squad, Nieva said the team would be heading to England on a training trip.
"We are going to Sheffield from July 16 to July 29. Then the Services team will be here in the camp from August 1 till we depart for the Games on August 16.
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“There was always that option of going to a country like Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan to train but we are not able to work out the suitable dates. Besides, we were not sure about the kind of boxers we would be provided with for sparring. So all that taken into account, we opted for Sheffield,” he said.
Asked about India’s chances at the Games, starting August 18 in Indonesia, Nieva said, he expects a good show despite a stronger field in action.
"I believe it is going to be tougher than the Commonwealth Games simply because while in the CWG, you just had three-four top countries like England and Ireland, in the Asian Games that number is going to be seven-eight," he said.
"We also got good draws in the CWG. But I am quite confident that we will have a good performance."