There has been a lot of unwanted attention on the World Women’s Boxing Championships to be held in New Delhi from March 15 to 26. It’s driven, firstly, by the boycott by several prominent countries after permission had been granted to Russian and Belarusian boxers to compete under their national flags; secondly, by the International Boxing Association’s tussle with the International Olympic Committee (IOC); and thirdly, by the controversy surrounding the selection of home boxers.
Even as nations oppose the IOC’s stance of allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the 2024 Paris Games — Russia is seen as the aggressor in the Ukraine war and Belarus as its ally — the IBA, headed by a Russian (Umar Kremlev), dared to go in the opposite direction, refusing to follow the usual convention of making the participation of athletes of these nations contingent on the absence of their national flags.
It has provoked several countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Switzerland, and Norway. These countries have decided not to take part in the IBA’s marquee events — the World Championships for women (in Delhi) and for men (in Tashkent) this year.
Responding to the boycott, the IBA began disciplinary proceedings against five officials for “inciting a boycott” of the championships in Delhi: Executive Director/CEO of USA Boxing Mike McAtee, president of Boxing Canada Ryan O’Shea, Czech Boxing Association president Marek Šimák, Swedish Boxing Association chairman Per-Axel Sjöholm, and Boxing New Zealand president Steve Hartley.
The IBA claimed that the Boxing Independent Integrity Unit (BIIU) received a complaint against “certain individuals for a breach of the IBA Constitution and its Disciplinary and Ethics Code with their public actions.” It offered financial support to boxers from the boycotting nations in order to help them in their training and preparations to take part in the World Championships.
This stalemate hasn’t yet ended. It has annoyed the nations and the IBA, and it’s not yet clear how many of the elite boxers from these countries will compete individually. The non-participation of several elite boxers is likely to take some gloss off the competition. They include: Amy Broadhurst (2022 World champion, 63kg), Lisa O’Rourke (2022 World champion, 70kg), Kellie Harrington (2020 Olympic champion, 60kg) of Ireland, Lauren Price (2020 Olympic champion, 75kg) and Karriss Artingstall (2020 Olympic bronze medallist, 57kg) of Great Britain, Rashida Ellis (2022 World champion, 60kg) and Oshae Jones (2020 Olympic bronze medallist, 69kg) of the USA, Nouchka Fontijn (2020 Olympic bronze medallist, 75kg) of the Netherlands, Charlie Cavanagh (2022 Worlds silver medallist, 66kg) of Canada and Oliwia Toborek (2022 Worlds silver medallist, 81kg) of Poland.
These boxers would have competed in the same weight categories as the ones in which they won their Worlds and Olympic medals. Their absence in Delhi, therefore, might benefit some Indian boxers – including Worlds and Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain, who has shifted from 69kg to 75kg, Worlds bronze medallist Manisha Moun (57kg) and Commonwealth Games and Asian Games bronze medallist Jaismine Lamboria (60kg) — as they compete in the Olympic weight classes.
Besides the sport’s governing body, the host nation, too, is surrounded by controversy. India picked 12 boxers for the competition on the basis of a newly-introduced evaluation system, but three National champions — Manju Rani (48kg), Shiksha Narwal (54kg) and Poonam Poonia (60kg) — have challenged their non-inclusion in the Indian squad at the Delhi High Court.
Plenty to look forward to
Nonetheless, there will be plenty to look forward to.
First, there will be many reputed athletes in action, such as India’s Nikhat Zareen and Lovlina, Algeria’s Imane Khelif, Argentina’s Aldana Florencia Lopez, Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira and Caroline De Almeida, Colombia’s Ingrit Valencia, Italy’s Irma Testa, Kazakhstan’s Karina Ibragimova, Mozambique’s Alcinda Helena Panguana, Philippines’ Nesthy Petecio, and Morocco’s Khadija Mardi.
Second, the organisers have claimed that they have received 333 entries from 65 countries.
Third, the IBA has left no stone unturned to make its elite event a successful one by announcing a huge prize purse of $2.4 million. The gold medallists in each of the 12 weight categories will receive $100,000. Each silver medallist will get $50,000, while every bronze medallist will stand to gain $25,000.
And fourth, the IBA has upped the ante in its ongoing duel with the IOC by announcing that its World Championships will be qualifying events for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The IOC , which suspended the IBA from conducting boxing during the Olympics for the second consecutive edition, stuck to its position, saying that only the qualifying system approved by its Executive Board in September last year would be considered for allocating quota places.
The existence of two qualification systems will only confuse the boxers and endanger the presence of boxing in the Olympic programme.
India, hosting the event for a third time, has fielded a strong team. It’s a mix of youth and experience. While leading boxers Nikhat (50kg), and Lovlina will be eager to assert their class in their respective new weight categories, Manisha will be keen to secure her second successive podium finish. The seasoned Saweety Boora (81kg), a 2014 Worlds silver medallist and a current Asian champion, will try to land another World championship medal after a long gap.
The young and talented lot of Commonwealth Games gold winner Nitu Ghanghas (48kg), Jaismine and two-time World Youth champion Sakshi Chaudhary (52kg) will look to prove their worth at the highest level. Preeti (54kg), Shashi Chopra (63kg), Manju Bamboria (66kg), Sanamacha Chanu (70kg) and Nupur Sheoran (+81kg) are full of potential and have got the hunger for success.
With able guidance from high-performance director Bernard Dunne, foreign coach Dmitry Dmitruk , and chief coach Bhaskar Bhatt, the home boxers will look for a better outcome than the haul of four medals, including a gold and a silver, when the country hosted the event last in 2018.