In 2010, for the first time, India approached major multi-discipline events, such as the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, with an Olympic and World championships medallist boxer in its ranks.
Vijender Singh’s bronze medals in 75 kg in the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 World championships raised the profile of Indian boxing manifold and made the boxers from the country a confident lot.
In the Delhi Commonwealth Games and Guangzhou Asiad in 2010, India bagged seven and nine medals respectively as boxing established itself as a medal fetching discipline for the country.
M. C. Mary Kom, who hogged the limelight after five World titles and attained star status after a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics, World championships medallists Vikas Krishan (2011) and Shiva Thapa (2015) enhanced the reputation of Indian boxers.
It also directed everyone’s attention towards the performance of other women boxers whose feats in important events, including the World championships, had gone rather unnoticed so far.
Unfortunately, a bitter spell of internal squabble in the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) retarded the growth of Indian boxing. The International Boxing Association (AIBA) disaffiliated the IABF and its substitute, Boxing India, as boxing in the country was left in a state of chaos for four long years.
Nevertheless, Indian boxers relied on their talent and experience to return five medals apiece in the 2014 Asian and Commonwealth Games.
Finally, the formation of a new national federation, the Boxing Federation of India (BFI), put boxing activities back on the track in 2016. An organised structure and a healthy approach, including the hosting of regular international events, helped Indian boxing.
In 2018, Indian boxers won nine medals in the Commonwealth Games and just two in the Asian Games. But they continued to improve in other competitive fields.
Indian women, who had claimed six medals in four editions of the World championships between 2010 and 2016, gave an impressive showing to land four medals each in the 2018 and 2019 editions at home and in Russia respectively.
The 2018 edition of the World championships was memorable as Mary Kom won her sixth world title. In the next, where she settled for a bronze, Mary became the most successful boxer, male or female, in the World championships by achieving seven podium finishes.
Gaurav Bidhuri secured another bronze in 2017 in the men’s World championships in the post-chaotic period.
Year 2019 was a watershed one as in the men’s competition the Indian boxers made history by taking two medals in one edition of the World championships, which is very tough in terms of competition.
Amit Panghal, who had the rare distinction of being the Asian Games champion and the Asian champion, performed creditably well to secure the country’s first ever silver medal in 52 kg in the World championships in Ekaterinburg.
Manish Kaushik’s bronze in 63 kg also delighted the boxing fans and held India in good stead ahead of the Olympic qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
The iconic Vijender Singh turning professional in 2015 was an important development in the Indian boxing scene. Even though professional boxing has been struggling to make an impact in India, Vijender is keeping the Indian flag flying high in the professional circuit by remaining unbeaten in 12 fights so far.
Some other boxers, including Akhil Kumar, Jitender Kumar, Sarita Devi and Vikas Krishan, also had a taste of professional boxing for a brief period. Several attempts have been made to establish pro boxing as an alternative course but none has emerged as successful as Vijender.
Following a long wait, the BFI-sanctioned Big Bout Indian Boxing League took off towards the fag end of 2019.
Internationally, too, boxing went through several ups and downs in the last decade.
The long reign of the ambitious Korean Ching Kuo Wu — he wanted to have complete control over boxing and introduced a semi-professional boxing league (World Series of Boxing), removed head gear for amateur male boxers and allowed professional boxers to compete in the Olympics — came to an unceremonious end amid allegations of financial improprieties which had left AIBA in a mess.
Even as the AIBA got rid of Wu and tried to put its house in order, the election of the tainted Uzbek businessman Gafur Rahimov — he was sanctioned by the US treasury department for his alleged links with a criminal organisation which the Uzbek strongly denied — as the President irked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and invited more trouble for the apex boxing body.
The IOC suspended AIBA and stripped it of the right to organise the boxing event in the Tokyo Olympics over issues related to finance, ethics (including refereeing), governance and the election of Rahimov.
The Olympic body also cancelled the prestigious World championships as an Olympic qualifying event and announced separate qualifiers to allot quota places to boxers for the 2020 Games.
Among the positives, the entry of women boxers into the Olympics in 2012 was the most significant development of the decade, which can be easily termed as the most eventful period for boxing.
The grappling scene
Sushil Kumar did a world of good to Indian wrestling with his bronze medal winning performance in the 66 kg freestyle category in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, towards the end of the last decade. This instilled a lot of self-belief in the wrestlers, who thought they could also win medals in elite events.
Indian wrestlers approached multi-sport games with a lot of confidence and it reflected in the 2010 Commonwealth and Asian Games.
The Indian wrestlers’ superb showing, 19 medals from 21 categories in all three styles, in the Delhi Commonwealth Games left a strong imprint on the minds of the sports lovers in the country.
Sushil also elevated his status by claiming titles in the Asian championships, Commonwealth Games and World championships in the 2010 calendar.
The country took its wrestling performance one step forward when Sushil became the only one from the country to land two individual medals, this time a silver (in 2012), in the Olympics. Yogeshwar Dutt’s bronze medal in 61 kg was the icing on the cake.
Indian wrestlers continued their dominance to remain on top as the country returned with 13 and 12 medals from 14 categories in the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games respectively.
In the Asian Games, they met with a tougher challenge and had to be satisfied with three, five and three medals in 2010, 2014 and 2018 respectively.
In 2018, Sushil winning three consecutive Commonwealth Games gold medals and Vinesh Phogat becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to win the Asian Games title, after securing the Commonwealth Games gold, were some of the high points.
The acrimony between Narsingh Yadav and Sushil over the 74 kg spot in the Indian squad for the Rio Olympics was a forgettable episode in the lead-up to the 2016 Games.
No male wrestler could win a medal this time, but Sakshi Malik sprung a surprise by picking up the 58 kg bronze and becoming the first woman wrestler from the country to attain an Olympic podium finish.
Meanwhile, some wrestlers excelled at the World championships and brought laurels for the country.
After Sushil’s gold in 2010, Geeta and Babita Phogat (both bronze, 2012), Amit Kumar Dahiya (silver, 2013), Bajrang Punia (bronze in 2013, silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019), Sandeep Yadav (Greco Roman, bronze, 2013), Narsingh Yadav (bronze, 2015), Pooja Dhanda (bronze, 2018), Vinesh Phogat (bronze, 2019), Deepak Punia (silver, 2019), Ravi Dahiya (bronze, 2019) and Rahul Aware (bronze, 2019) made India proud.
In fact, Indian wrestlers claiming five medals and four Olympic quota places in the 2019 World wrestling championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, was unprecedented. It boosted the country’s image as a wrestling powerhouse and increased the prospects of a good show in the coming Tokyo Games in 2020.
Bajrang becoming the only Indian to corner three World championship medals and Deepak taking a silver just months after winning the World junior title were some of the encouraging headlines from Nur-Sultan.
Besides, Deepak, who ended India’s 18-year wait in the World junior championships, being adjudged ‘Junior Wrestler of the Year’ by the international federation was heartening. He was the second Indian to get a United World Wrestling honour after the late Yashvir Singh, who was named ‘Coach of the Year’ in 2010 for guiding Sushil to the World title.
The growing popularity of wrestling resulted in the birth of the Pro Wrestling League (PWL). This was based on the Indian Premier League and yet was unique in the case of amateur wrestling, in 2015. PWL, despite initial misgivings, lifted the profile of Indian wrestling and aided young competitors by exposing them to world class stars.
At the global stage, the sport underwent drastic changes to cope with the challenges offered by other disciplines aspiring to be a part of the Olympic programme.
After wrestling managed to save its position in the Olympics following an IOC meeting in September 2013, the international federation (then FILA) made large scale changes to make the sport more appealing to the modern audience.
It changed its name to United World Wrestling (UWW) under its new president Nenad Lalovic and brought in several reforms, including a simplified scoring system, transparency in officiating, a vibrant uniform for wrestlers and gender equality in mega events to make the sport more acceptable.
These transformations visibly came into effect from the 2016 Rio Olympics and won the appreciation of wrestling lovers.
Olympics, World championships in boxing and wrestling, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, Asian championships
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