Ringside vignettes

R. RAGU

THE 52nd National Championship saw many unusual things. There was a spurt in entries and one could see more boxers from the North Eastern States and Sikkim. In any Nationals, one does not get to see participants from the North Eastern States regularly. Even Assam used to skip the event sometimes.

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Munusamy Venu (picture, above) of Services is a big name in Indian boxing. He has been the coach for the juniors. But now he has been elevated to the senior section.

Venu belonged to the era in which the MEG boxers from Bangalore used to strike terror in their opponents. They were brave and they went for the knock-out. Venu does not have to coach. If the IABF gets any recorded visual clippings of him in action and plays them to the beginners that itself will be a good lesson. This year his name was recommended for the Dronacharya award, but he did not get it. Venu, who is an Arjuna Award winner, is expecting it at least next year as his boys have done well in the Commonwealth competition.

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The IABF has permitted the participation of Services and Railways boxers, who have not qualified for their teams, through State teams in the National. Though this has helped them display their skills, it has increased the burden of the organisers with respect to the number of entries. "It used to be about 280 entries before this year. But this time it touched nearly 400 and if all the States and institutions come it may go up further in the future. I prefer a qualifying round to get around this problem. Or introducing a ranking system and allowing the ranked boxers to take part," said tournament director A. K. Karunakaran.

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The tournament organisers had approached a company for sponsorship and they were expecting a positive outcome. But, that was not to be and they faced a financial crunch to raise the estimated sum of about Rs. 20 lakhs needed to organise the tournament. The TNSABA President Anil Chopra, a garment exporter and a sports promoter, helped financially. The IABF Secretary, P. K. Muralidharan Raja, got in touch with ONGC. The sponsorship deal came through just before the semifinals. Though it was not a big amount, it certainly did much towards bridging the gap. Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) also helped financially. Their timely help saved the tournament. This is happening to a sport in which India has won Commonwealth gold medals and made a good impact. What a pity!

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There was a time when Southern Railway, Chennai, used to contribute three or four boxers to the Railways team. Now it has dwindled to almost nothing. Till the 1990s the General Managers of Southern Railway used to show special interest in recruiting sportsmen and in sports promotion. But now the institution presents a gloomy picture. Why should talented Tamil Nadu boxers seek jobs in South Central Railway, Secunderabad, is the common question asked. Even Integral Coach Factory, once a boxing powerhouse, has stopped recruitment.

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Dronacharya awardee Om Prakash Bharadwaj, who was once the national coach, has turned his attention to radio commentary. He was doing commentary during the Nationals. Bharadwaj is not in favour of foreign coaches. But boxers such as Devarajan, a World Cup bronze medallist, swear that Blas Fernandez, a Cuban coach who stayed in the country for a long time, has lifted Indian boxing to greater heights.

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The Nuclear Employees Sports & Cultural Organisation (NESCO) at Kalpakkam helped the organisers by providing the ground and accommodation. Being an isolated colony, food for the boxers and officials had to be arranged every day. Though they got good food from a contractor, there was a dispute after three days and the organisers gave each boxer Rs. 75 every day to eat outside. As the boxers come from all over the country and have different culinary tastes, the organisers found it difficult to satisfy them, a trend that is happening in every sport. "Like in athletics, the boxers must be told to make their own arrangements for food in future. It is becoming expensive," said IABF Secretary Col. P. K. Muralidharan Raja.

— M.C. Raman