A Cuban viewpoint

“Definitely, there is a lot of improvement as far as Indian boxing is concerned at the international level. But, we still have a long way to go,” the seasoned coach, Blas Iglesias Fernandez (in pic) of Cuba, tells V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Blas Iglesias Fernandez of Cuba, who has been guiding the Indian boxers for close to two decades now with intermittent breaks, is determined to produce more medallists in the 2016 Olympics in Rio (Brazil).

The Cuban, who is the first foreign coach to be conferred the prestigious Dronacharya Award and whose services have been retained by the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation till the next Olympics, is, however, a bit puzzled at the lack of talent in the 56, 60 and 64 kg categories.

“Somehow, I am not really impressed with the quality of boxers in these categories even after witnessing so many bouts in this Senior Nationals (Hyderabad),” Fernandez said in a chat on the sidelines of the nation’s premier boxing championship. “There are not too many Referee Stopped Contests in this Nationals,” he says with a wry smile.

“Definitely, there is a lot of improvement as far as Indian boxing is concerned at the international level. But, we still have a long way to go,” the seasoned coach says. “Yes, we are already in the preparatory mode for the next Olympics and that is exactly the reason why we have decided to pick 60 best boxers — not necessarily medallists — from this Senior Nationals and train them as part of our long-term development plan,” Fernandez explains even as he takes down notes along with the chief coach G. S. Sandhu, Dronacharya I. Venkateswara Rao and other members of the key panel.

“The focus is not on quantity but on quality in our endeavour to produce champions. It is a continuous process. We need to constantly keep finding talent and nurture it in the desired manner. We have seen in some States where there is talent, there are no quality sparring partners,” the Cuban coach pointed out. “The whole idea of our approach is to ensure that there are at least three to four boxers who are as good as the top boxer in India in each category,” he emphasises.

The immensely experienced coach is also a bit disappointed that India doesn’t have the desired influence in the international boxing federation and, unfortunately, the rules keep changing to the disadvantage of the Indian boxers.

Fernandez says that as part of the plans to produce more medallists — with the World championship next year being a big test not just for the boxers but also for the coaches — the focus will be on exposure to various competitions and also instilling confidence amongst the Indian boxers. “Lack of confidence is one major worry even though many of our boxers are really good, skills and technique-wise,” he says.

What exactly are the targets he has set for himself? “Keep improving with every international event. Make a critical analysis and try to find ways and means to produce better boxers in the run-up to the next Olympics,” Fernandez says.

Referring to how difficult it will be for him to motivate the Indian boxers after the dismal showing in the London Olympics, the articulate coach says it was more because of some bad decisions that went against the Indians. “A couple of medals in men’s boxing would have inspired many more and given a new image to the sport itself,” he says.

On Mary Kom’s bronze medal in the recent London Olympics (the first medal by an Indian woman boxer in the Olympics), Fernandez says it is an inspirational achievement and should naturally help many girls look to the sport with a lot more respect and passion. “It is an amazing achievement by any standards,” he remarks.

The Cuban’s face turned grim when asked about the sport back home. “Yes, we were once a powerhouse in world boxing. Unfortunately, many young boxers are migrating to the U. S. Ours is a country with a small population and consequently it is very difficult to keep improving,” he signs off before jotting down some more notes at the Nationals.