Aimed to generate more interest

Luminaries of the Indian boxing fraternity, P.K. Muralidharan Raja, Shailendra Singh, Vijender Singh, Akhil Kumar and Gurbax Singh snapped during the Commonwealth Boxing Championship in 2010. Raja and Akhil have given good insights into the recent rule changes of the AIBA.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Hockey and amateur boxing have made some drastic rule changes to enhance their mass appeal and strengthen their position in the Olympics. Y.B. Sarangi takes stock.

At a time when wrestling is grappling to stay on in the Olympic programme, two other traditional sports, hockey and amateur boxing, have made some drastic rule changes to enhance their mass appeal and strengthen their position in the quadrennial extravaganza.

There will be no more ‘golden goals’ in a hockey match as the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has decided to do away with extra time. And, in a men’s bout at the highest level, boxers will no longer wear protective headgears following a new International Boxing Association (AIBA) ruling.

Taking the sport closer to professional boxing, the AIBA has also decided to introduce a new scoring system. This will make the fights more interesting and reduce the confusion for a common spectator.

In its bid to make the action on the astro-turf more racy without testing the patience of the viewers, the FIH has also introduced a new rule of limiting the time of taking a penalty corner to 45 seconds. One can clearly see an attempt from both international federations to make their sports more attractive with the objective of wooing more spectators.

No doubt, the rule changes brought in by the AIBA will have a noticeable impact in terms of connecting to the fans in the stands and in front of television sets. “Now, each boxer fighting in the Olympics will get his identity, which otherwise gets hidden beneath the headgear,” said the 2006 Commonwealth Games champion Akhil Kumar, who fought some World Series Boxing (WSB) bouts without any headgear.

Brig. P.K. Muralidharan Raja, who has officiated as a referee-and-judge at the highest level, agreed. “Now people can watch a boxer’s expression inside the ring. You can see the impact of each and every blow delivered,” he said.

Boxers participating in the 2016 World championships will fight without headgear. But will the sport be safe without headgear, which has been part of amateur boxing for almost three decades?

“It is more psychological than anything else. A boxer will be allowed to apply some kind of gel to reduce friction (due to the contact of gloves and skin) and avoid cuts on his face. Under the new rule, the role of a specialist doctor (who can help heal injuries quickly) becomes very important,” said Akhil, citing how a cut suffered by him during the 2011 Baku World championship halted his progress.

Brig. Raja had a word of assurance. “These days the gloves have become super soft. Besides, the AIBA has a strong medical commission and it must have taken care of this aspect. A boxer should also feel more free without the headgear (which weighs between 300 and 400gm).”

Since the headgear is still compulsory for boxers participating in the sub-junior, junior and youth championships, certain pugilists may have to resort to dual training.

“The youth boxers, who are eligible to take part in both elite men and youth events, have to train separately for different championships,” Brig. Raja pointed out.

The new scoring system, where the five judges will give points in a pattern of 10-9, 10-8, 10-7 etc., may turn out to be a fairer method.

“Instead of scoring for each punch, the judges will score for the quality of boxing in a given round. Earlier, someone was able to get a good early lead and protect it for the rest of the bout to emerge winner. Now, one has to win at least two rounds to clinch a bout,” said Brig. Raja.

Akhil Kumar listed the priorities for a boxer under the new system. “A boxer has to work more on his tactics (both attack and defence), shots, stamina, fitness and how to manage oneself, etc. One has to be a complete boxer to thrive under the new system.”

Hockey, with its new rules (which may come into effect later this year), has also been packaged to provide more thrilling moments to its followers.

The chief coach of the Indian team, Michael Nobbs, said the coaches and players had to work more to get adjusted to the change in format. “Not many games now go to penalty shootouts as a lot of games are won during the extra period of time. This certainly adds a new dimension to the game, let’s see how it works out.”

Nobbs was delighted with the decision to limit the time for taking a penalty corner as he felt “they are used as time wasters.”

“Imagine where there are 10 penalty corners per game. That is approximately 10 minutes of playing time missing per game at the moment and perhaps longer if it takes longer than a minute per penalty corner. I think spectators and players would prefer a shorter time to take them,” he said.

Two-time Olympian and noted commentator Jagbir Singh welcomed then changes. “These changes are good for the sport. In the last moments of a match the action becomes lethargic, so if we get rid of the extra time then it becomes spectator friendly.”

“Whatever be the changes, skills will hold their value in hockey,” said Jagbir.