In big league

M. C. Mary Kom and Sarita Devi (below) ... waiting for their chances.-PICS: RITU RAJ KONWAR M. C. Mary Kom and Sarita Devi (below) ... waiting for their chances.

After a long wait, women’s boxing is at last ready to make its appearance at the London Games in 2012. With a rich pool of quality fighters India stands to make the most of it. By Y. B. Sarangi.

After spreading its wings in more than 120 countries and going through five world championships, women’s boxing has finally found a foothold in the Olympics.

The news generated enough enthusiasm among top boxing nations and it was not surprising that the Indian boxing fraternity was on cloud nine. It was a natural reaction from a country which has produced a few world champions, including the current and four-time world title winner M.C. Mary Kom.

India’s happiness on women’s boxing being included in the 2012 London Games is because of two reasons. The Indian women have done well internationally, earning 22 world championship medals, including seven gold medals. And this record significantly increases India’s chances of winning a few more medals at the Olympics. And the sudden spotlight can also translate into a rapid growth for the sport.

The Indian Boxing Federation is thus pinning its hope on a bright spark from the eves at the biggest stage. “Realistically, India has a chance to win medals. But, let’s not take it for granted that we will win gold because the pressure of Olympics is different. Three more years are left and several new boxers will come up at the world level, it would not be easy to compete,” the Secretary General of the Indian federation, Col. P.K. Muralidharan Raja, says.

He also foresees more recognition for the boxers and says: “It is not easy to get medals at the Olympics. The preparation for it is completely different. Hopefully, our girls will now get all the facilities to succeed there.”

The federation has already thought of hiring a Russian coach to help the medal prospects.

Mary Kom, meanwhile, is overjoyed with the news. “Inclusion of women’s boxing in Olympics has brought more happiness to me than the Khel Ratna award. It is a big encouragement. Now I can realise my dream of participating in the Olympics,” she says.

However, there are two big challenges before the 26-year-old. Three years from now, she will be close to 30 and even if she makes the cut for the London Games, the Manipuri will have to withstand tough challenge from the newcomers.

The weight category too is a point of concern as Mary Kom has won all her four world titles in the 46kg class and her lone silver in the first world championship (in 2001) came in the 48kg category. For 2012 Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has allowed three weight classes — flyweight (48-51kg), lightweight (56-60kg) and middleweight (69-75kg) — and the Indian ace has to move to a higher category in order to be eligible.

Well aware of the challenge, Mary Kom admits that it would be a tough job. “My weight category is not there. So, I have to work hard to participate in a higher weight class,” she says.

But Indian dreams do not rest only on her shoulders and there are several unsung boxers who have been consistent in their showing at the international level and can make the country proud.

Among multiple world championship medal winners, one can take the cases of L. Sarita Devi (52kg; a gold and two bronze), N. Usha (57kg; two-time silver medallist) and Chhoto Loura (50kg; two-time bronze winner) who have proved their worth and can match the best in the world.

Meanwhile, the British and Australian doctors have protested the IOC’s decision to include women’s boxing in the Olympics. They conclude that this is “likely to encourage more people to take up this dangerous sport”.

However, boxing has been popular across the world since ages and it is a sport that takes a lot of care about the athlete’s safety. So, IOC’s green signal to women’s boxing must have come after much deliberation on safety issues other than, of course, the crucial voting.