Santiago Nieva: We should bring back headgear for male boxers

High performance director Santiago Nieva has a clear plan to help Indian boxers earn as many quota places as possible for the Tokyo Olympics.

“The domestic calendar is high on everybody’s wish list, but there are external issues which complicate things. We have to adapt with that and at the same time we have to push for improving our system,” says Santiago Nieva.   -  AFP

The Indian boxers’ fine performance in the men’s world championships in Ekaterinburg, Russia, is a thing of the past. As they prepare for the first Olympic qualifier in Wuhan, China, in February, high performance director Santiago Nieva has a clear plan to help the country realise its potential and earn as many quota places as possible.

Nieva spoke to Sportstar about the Indian boxers’ preparation and other issues related to boxing.

Road to qualifier

We will select the boxers based on the results in the national championships and previous performances. We will invite a maximum of 55 boxers to the camp. In December, we have the Indian Boxing League — Big Bout. We will have trials for the first Olympic qualifier on December 29 and 30. Already Amit (Panghal in 52kg) and Manish Kaushik (63kg) have made it to the first qualifier.

We will bring some foreign teams to India, we will invite five-six teams to come and train with us to get some good sparring ahead of the Asian qualifier. It will be a tough competition, but if we continue to perform, we will get a good number of qualified boxers.

Balancing burnouts and exposure

We have loaded them very much. At least for those boxers who have got many events, one is sufficient. Amit competed in the Military World Games and then he will box in the league.

It will be two events but he says he is fine. That’s why we are doing the preparation in India to avoid a lot of travelling. If we invite some good teams here, that will be the best.

Nieva with boxers Mary Kom, Amit Panghal and Shiva Thapa. “Many medallists and Olympic champions make it in the last qualifier. We have to prepare for the last qualifier,” says Nieva of the number of boxers making it to Tokyo.   -  PTI


Uncertainty around league

If the league is cancelled, there are one or two tournaments where we can go. One is in Romania, and the other in Russia. It would be a setback but nothing major.

Trials for six weights

The competition will be extremely tough. Fortunately we have many good boxers. It will be a hard fight till the end. There will be a lot of close bouts and we have to see who is performing the best. Only those will be selected. There is fierce competition in 57kg, 69kg and 91kg.

If someone does not qualify at the first chance

Many medallists and Olympic champions make it in the last qualifier. We have to prepare for the last qualifier. We will have the India Open in March. Again, the field will be a little open. One who performs well in the India Open — we will also count the previous performances — will be selected. If it is very close, we will have a selection trial at the end of the first week of April. If Amit fails in the first qualifier, he will compete in the India Open and has to prove himself. We cannot rule out the best-ever performer in the history of Indian boxing.

Domestic calendar

That’s high on everybody’s wish list, but there are external issues which complicate things. We have to adapt with that and at the same time we have to push for improving our system.

Organising more events

I want more competitions. I want every boxer in India to compete once every month or every two months. Right now there are some boxers who have the opportunity to compete more than three times a year. That’s not good for development. If you look at the top-50 countries in the world, all have possibilities to compete, especially in Europe. That’s not the system in India and we definitely need to improve it. We need competitions at the grassroots, sub-junior and junior levels. There are way too few competitions for them. For the elite national men’s and women’s teams, we have no problems. For the rest of India, we need competitions. We need to organise small, big, zonal competitions.

This is something I have discussed from day one. We have improved, but we need to improve further. This is an ongoing process and it will take some time, but hopefully in a couple of years our calendar will have enough competitions.

Nieva attends to Manish Kaushik during the World Championships. “Hopefully, at the Olympics or after the Olympics we will get back with headgear (for men),” feels Nieva.   -  Special Arrangement


Headgear for men

It happened exactly how I had predicted. The format is too intense, too short to compete without headgear because of the urgency to score in nine minutes. The head comes in when you lose balance, you get tired and so on. Head clashes will happen. You have a bout for five days and it is difficult to compete in many bouts when you get cuts. We have seen this in the 1980s before they introduced headgear. That was the reason why they introduced headgear. At the 1980 Moscow Olympics, two finals involving Soviet Union boxers were stopped and they lost due to cuts. Now nearly 40 years later, at the world championships, two finals were stopped due to horrendous cuts. They introduced headgear in 1984. I perfectly understand why they want to remove headgear.

People want to see the face of the boxer and it looks more like professional boxing, but practically it has not worked. Now we have a situation where men compete without headgear and women compete with headgear. The original plan was to remove headgear for women, youth and junior from January 1, 2018. But everybody felt it would be disastrous and aborted the plan. Now the elite men are competing without headgear and we can see the mess with the tremendous amount of cuts.

At the domestic level — it has happened in many countries — they have come back and are competing with headgear. Even in small international events they are competing with headgear. From next year we will have the nationals with headgear, for sure. We are conducting all our trials with headgear. Definitely, this is one issue I will raise and make sure that it will be back. It’s dangerous and we have to think about the health of our boxers. We have boxers in the camp who have got cuts, for which stitches were needed 10-12 times in three-four years. It’s not good for their boxing career and their life after their career is over. We have some top boxers like Mohammed Hussamuddin, Kavinder Bisht and Shiva Thapa who have so many cuts.

Hopefully, at the Olympics or after the Olympics, we will get back to headgear. It is not possible to continue like this. Ideally, it should come from the (International Boxing Association) commissions. But the commissions are not working. I raised this issue two years ago at the AIBA coaches’ commission. That time, a very small number of people had agreed with me. Today, if you raise the issue, the situation will be totally different. I spoke to many top coaches during the world championships and they agreed that we need to get back to the headgear.