The everlasting appeal of the iconic M.C. Mary Kom in the World women’s boxing championships should inspire the Indian boxers, spearheaded by World and Olympic bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain and World and Commonwealth Games champion Nikhat Zareen, to seek the country’s best-ever showing in the elite event starting at the K.D. Jadhav Hall here on Thursday.
Mary, the brand ambassador of the event, took oath on behalf of the athletes at a glittering opening ceremony even though she would not box this time. Her sixth World title at the same venue in 2018 will motivate the home boxers as India hosts the event for a third time, the most by any country.
Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding the selections, the Indian team – a fine mix of exuberance and experience – is well-prepared for the event ahead of the Asian Games, an Olympic qualifier.
All eyes will be on Lovlina and Nikhat, who will be keen to establish themselves in newer weights ahead of the Olympics.
Lovlina, a two-time Worlds and an Olympic bronze medallist in 69kg, has secured an Asian crown in 75kg and will be confident of moving forward.
Nikhat, the reigning 52kg World champion, has claimed the Commonwealth Games crown in 50kg and should be full of self-belief.
Nikhat, who will meet Azerbaijan’s Anakhanim Ismayilova first and may run into top-seeded Roumaysa Boualam next, is among the four Indians, including Sakshi Chaudhary (52kg), Preeti (54kg) and Nupur Sheoran (+81kg), to fight on the morrow.
Meanwhile, World youth gold medallist Sanamacha Chanu (70kg) has been replaced with Shruti Yadav due to a ‘head injury’.
The World championships drew unwanted attention due to the boycott by several countries, including Ireland, the USA and Great Britain, which protested against the IBA’s decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete under their flags.
However, the presence of elite boxers including Nikhat and Lovlina, Algeria’s Imane Khelif, France’s Estelle Mossely, Argentina’s Aldana Florencia Lopez, Brazil’s Beatriz Ferreira and Caroline De Almeida, Colombia’s Ingrit Valencia and Italy’s Irma Testa will ensure high class action.
Athletes from boycotting countries including New Zealand and the Netherlands and the troubled Afghanistan is a moral victory for the IBA.
Prize money worth Rs 20 crore across 12 weight classes, its intention to conduct the Olympic qualifiers and an offer to financially support boxers from the boycotting countries were some steps taken by the IBA to ensure a good participation – 300-plus entries from 65 countries.
With Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur in attendance, IBA president Umar Kremlev reiterated India’s status as the capital of women’s boxing. Kremlev also guaranteed “transparency and fairness” and underlined the presence of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) team and an independent McLaren team for onsite monitoring while pushing for the sport’s old status in the Olympic programme.