Boxers Bring Glory in Ring, Officials Shame Off it in 2015
The year 2015 was special for Indian boxing as Olympic medallist Vijender Singh made a stunning professional debut while Shiva Thapa won a silver medal at the World Championships. But infighting within Indian boxing federation led to its suspension
Vijender Singh's stunning professional debut and Shiva Thapa's World Championships medal lifted the gloom in Indian boxing, amidst the infighting among officials, which led to the boxing association's suspension. (Vijender Singh Eyes Another Knockout Show Against Samet Hyuseinov)
Vijender, the country's first ever Olympic medallist, took the entire Indian boxing fraternity by surprise with his decision to turn professional during, what was called, a training trip to the UK. (Vijender Singh Knocks Out Sonny Whiting to Start Professional Boxing Career With a Bang)
Certainly not the first Indian to try his luck in the more lucrative and glamorous world of professional boxing, Vijender's move was the most talked-about, given that none before him had accumulated the achievements that he did.
So, to turn pro just a year before the Olympic Games, where he was seen as a strong medal contender in the middleweight category, was met with applause, criticism and skepticism in equal measures.
But he has managed to prove the naysayers wrong with his confident performances so far, including a couple of knockout wins.
With Vijender's departure to the pro circuit, the slot for India's No.1 amateur boxer fell vacant and though there is no particular contender in sight right now, the year 2015 did throw up some exciting talent, which had been around for a while but gained in maturity and confidence.
Shiva Thapa's World Championship Silver Medal - a Bright Spot
This breed includes Shiva (56kg), Mandeep Jangra (69kg) and Vikas Krishan (75kg) among a few others. Shiva shone a shade brighter than the rest by becoming only the third Indian boxer ever to win a medal at the World Chamionships. (Shiva Thapa Rises to No. 2 Spot in World Rankings)
It was a brilliant year for the 22-year-old Assamese during which he won a bronze at the Asian Championships before the historic bronze at the World Championships in Doha. (Shiva Thapa Settles for World Boxing Championships Bronze, Still in Hunt for Olympic Berth)
The only blip was his failure to book an Olympic berth, for which the World Championships was a qualifying event. In fact, no Indian boxer could fetch an Olympic quota place in Doha but given the administrative mess, which led to the national federation's suspension for the second time in three years, it was no small achievement to clinch a medal at the showpiece tournament.
Sarita Devi's Ban Ends
In women's boxing, it was all about the return of L Sarita Devi, the former world champion who had been serving a one-year ban for her emotional outburst at the 2014 Asian Games medal ceremony. (Laishram Sarita Devi Feels She is a Thinking Boxer Now as Ban Ends)
The Manipuri came back into the reckoning with some good performances in a training-cum-competition trip to China.
While the boxers remained focussed on doing what they are best at, the administrators of the sport also carried on doing what they never get tired of -- politicking.
Infighting in Boxing India
Barely a year after a new federation took charge in the form of Boxing India, a revolt from state units forced the ouster of its President Sandeep Jajodia and Secretary Jay Kowli in May. (International Boxing Association Forms Ad-Hoc Committee for Managing the Sport in India)
As was expected, a bewildered and livid International Boxing Association (AIBA) provisionally suspended Boxing India and ordered that a new body take shape but did not set a deadline for the process.
The world body, instead, handed over the administration of the sport to an ad-hoc committee headed by Kishen Narsi, India's representative in the AIBA. It also mandated the committee to find a suitable group to form a new federation.
The ad-hoc committee now also has a coordination committee to assist it, following intervention by the Sports Ministry but there is no end in sight to the administrative quagmire. Amid the din in amateur administration, professional boxing made an unobtrusive entry into the Indian market following Vijender's move.
Two Boxing Bodies in Fray
Currently two bodies -- the Professional Boxing Organisation of India (PBOI) and the Indian Boxing Council (IBC) -- are trying to gain a foothold by handing out licenses to interested boxers besides conducting stand-alone bouts. Vijender is registered with the IBC, which has sought affiliation from the WBC as well as the WBA.
The entry of two bodies for professional boxers could herald a new era in Indian boxing and open up good financial avenues for second or third-rung pugilists in the amateur circuit. In fact, one Indian boxer has already made quite a splash in the AIBA-backed semi-professional league -- the World Series of Boxing.
Gaurav Bidhuri (52kg), who won three of his five bouts for Italia Thunders last season, became the only Indian to be picked by a team in the WSB season-opening draft, signed by the USA Knockouts. The next year brings with it the second and final round of Olympic qualifiers in March followed by the Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Although the road to Rio is fraught with difficulties, the Indian boxers have time and again shown themselves to be tougher than the circumstances they have faced. And it is this steely resolve which fuels the hopes for an Olympic medal next year.