Mighty impressed with the "hardworking" Indian boxers, British professional star Amir Khan is all set to start a chain of academies in the country to harness the "abundant talent", which according to him, is not getting the support it deserves. (Read more boxing stories here)
The 2004 Olympics silver-medallist and WBA and IBF light welterweight world champion could not stop raving about the country where he has set foot for the first time.
"I have always wanted to come to India because I have heard and read that it's a beautiful place. I have a lot of Indian friends and I have been wanting to come here and experience everything. In fact, my family came to Delhi in 2010 for the Commonwealth Games, where my brother (Haroon) was competing and he got a bronze medal. They told me it's a beautiful place and you have to visit," the 28-year-old, whose roots are Pakistani, said.
The youngest British Olympic medallist, whose silver in Athens came when he was a mere 17, Khan is keen to start his academies first in Delhi and Mumbai before heading further inwards.
"The plan is basically to have academies around the world to be honest and India is one place where it can happen. We have been building a couple of them in Pakistan, UK, Doha, Sydney. Dubai is another destination and India is another place. Boxing is a sport which is growing quickly in India and with Vijender going professional, it is obviously going to become bigger. Definitely we want to promote boxing in such a country," the boxer, who competes in welterweight now, said as he laid out his plans.
"As far as the facilities are concerned, we are going to start with one in Delhi and one in Mumbai. I think that's where champions come from, champions come from grassroots. That's exactly what I am doing in Pakistan, in fact I am building five in Pakistan. We have had good meetings with good people here," he said.
"To start, it will be better to have academies in cities but slowly you have to go to the interiors."
Calling himself a keen follower of Indian boxing, Khan said he has been left impressed by the boxers' determination and single-minded focus every time he has interacted with them.
"It's the heart. They are hardworking people. That's what's special about people in this part of the world. They work hard to achieve what they want. That's what I have seen in Indian boxers, they are very hardworking. That's why there's so much talent here," he pointed out.
"Indian boxers need more support. They need more people to follow them, support them. With support you become better fighters. Indian people need to get behind the boxers. The talent is here, you have Mary Kom, Vijender, but they need support. They are not getting that support as much as it's needed," he added.
And, it is this support that Khan is promising through his academies.
"I am here to help in whatever way I can. End of the day I am trying to promote boxing. Sometimes having a name behind an academy makes a lot of difference. It's gonna be good to open an academy here because there is huge talent in India. Talent is massive here, it's just not being utillised in the right way. We need to utillise it the right way," he said.
At this point, Khan recalled a conversation with India's national coach G S Sandhu during the World Championships earlier this month in Doha where he was invited as a special guest.
"I saw all the Indian boxers during the World Championships. Mr Sandhu is a very nice guy, he also said that 'we would love to have your help'. He said 'we need to have someone like you to support the sport'. I have met him before in the Olympics. That's where I met Vijender for the first time. We need to have guys like Mr Sandhu to promote boxing," he said.
Khan said he is particularly impressed with Vijender, India's first Olympic and World Championships medallist who is now a professional pugilist.
"Vijender is doing really well. He has won his professional debut. Obviously, the transition was going to be hard from an amateur to professional. But he has done it really well. He is fighting again next month. He has a great future ahead of him. We need more people like Vijender because having more people like him will promote boxing in India.
"The young people will look up to him and say that if Vijender can do this, we can do this too. They are going to follow his footsteps. He is like a role model in Indian boxing," he said.
"Vijender had to go to UK but he wouldn't have had to do it if he could have done it in India, if there was a platform for him. I am here to help the professional set up of boxing," he added.
Khan said he would look to take his initiative to the interiors of the country.
"You need to promote in the cradles. There are fighters like Mary Kom. Nobody expected her to do what she has done. She is from the grassroots. Sometimes, when you build gyms in the city, you don't get the best talent, you have to build them in the interiors. Boxing is a sport which produces champions from the grassroots," he explained.
Asked if he is apprehensive of any trouble in going about his plan owing to his Pakistani roots, Khan said he does not anticipate any problem.
"End of the day, God watches down on me and makes sure that everything is alright. As a fighter I have never had fear and I think that's what makes me who I am. I have never had fear," he said with a wide grin.
"I have always wanted to come to India and end of the day I want the best for the people here and all over the world. And I think God brought me here for a reason and that is to help people in boxing," he asserted.