Santiago Nieva: 'Indian boxers' Olympic preparation won’t be affected by COVID-19 travel bans'

Indian boxing’s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva feels the country’s Tokyo-bound pugilists won’t be affected by COVID-19 travel bans.

India's high-performance director Santiago Nieva (from left), Mary Kom, Amit Panghal and Shiva Thapa (File photo).   -  PTI Photo

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the build-up to this year’s Olympics into disarray, but Indian boxing’s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva feels the country’s Tokyo-bound pugilists won’t be affected as they would be just fine training at home if travel restrictions don’t ease up.

Nieva is in precautionary quarantine till March 27 after the team’s return from the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Jordan, where India secured an unprecedented nine Tokyo spots.

The entire squad was training in the Italian city of Assisi before heading to Jordan. Italy is one of the worst-affected countries by COVID-19, having recorded more than 2,000 deaths.

“It’s actually quite boring (in quarantine). I just about manage to pass my time here but we all have to be patient. This will be over soon and the preventive measures are for our good,” he said.

The Argentina-born Swede, who came on board back in 2017, sounded relaxed about India’s build-up plans. “What’s the point in panicking?” he asked.

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“Whatever happens, it is going to be same for all the countries. So, even if the travel bans are not lifted, we have the infrastructure in India to ensure that our training is not affected,” he asserted.

The Indian boxers have traditionally preferred to travel abroad for training before the Olympics. They were, in fact, scheduled to be in Russia on a training-cum-competition trip in May before the now-postponed world qualifiers but that plan looks unlikely to work out in the current circumstances.

“The world qualifiers (in Paris) are in any case suspended as of now and we have secured Olympic spots in nine out of 13 categories. That is a huge advantage given the situation. As such, we are not under any pressure,” he explained.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused close to 8,000 deaths worldwide, has led to India placing travel bans on people to and from affected countries. This means Nieva’s family, which was to be here at this time, had to cancel its plans.

“That bit is frustrating. I can’t go there either but once things get better, everything will be back to normal and we need to patient. I am okay with that,” he said.

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Given that all training activities are suspended for now due to the precautionary measures in place, Nieva and his women’s team counterpart Raffaele Bergamasco will be conducting online classes for Indian coaches.

“I have been notified about it by the federation yesterday. We will get going soon enough to utilise this time,” he said.

The idea behind the online classes is to ensure coaches in India are abreast with the latest technical rules. For this, they will also be given handbooks, detailing the changes that have come about in the scoring system among other things.

Talking about the Olympics, Nieva said the preparation for Tokyo began soon after he joined the Indian team in 2017. This was months after the Indian boxers failed to win any medals at the 2016 Games in Rio.

India have two Olympic medals in boxing -- Vijender Singh (2008) and M C Mary Kom (2012).

“We now enter the last leg of a process that started after the Rio Olympics. What we achieved at the Asian Qualifiers is a result of extensive training and competitions that we continuously participated in India as well as outside the country,” Nieva said.

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“The India Open has become a huge platform for our boxers to gain experience against the best in the world. All that has made them a very confident bunch and they are not bothered who is the opposition.

“Plus we are also able to bounce back from deficits (during bouts) more strongly. We have a large pool of boxers as well which is keeping the national camp pretty competitive,” he added.

The boxers who qualified for Olympics in Jordan are Amit Panghal (52kg), Manish Kaushik (63kg), Vikas Krishan (69kg), Ashish Kumar (75kg), Satish Kumar (+91kg), M C Mary Kom (51kg), Simranjit Kaur (60kg), Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) and Pooja Rani (81kg).

“When I joined in India, some journalists would ask me what I would do to improve the boxers’ mental strength and I always considered that question funny because I never found anything lacking,” he recalled.

“I always knew they had it in them to take on anyone. And they demonstrated that in these qualifiers. I feel very proud of this performance and my conviction,” he said.