M C Mary Kom is a living legend. Her exploits are etched in the folklore of Indian boxing and also in the history of the sport in the women’s section. Her struggle to reach the pinnacle is chronicled in books and movies. Her determination in the face of adversity is regarded as an inspiring example. But by refusing to take part in the World Championship trials, the six-time winner of the title has left a blotch on her glorious career. It’s understood thirty-six-year-old Mary wants to have yet another go at gold in Tokyo next year after settling for bronze in 2012. By accepting her demand, the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) has not only denied Nikhat Zareen and others a chance to qualify, but also undone a lot of the good work it did over the last two years after being reinstated as a legitimate body.
Apart from Mary’s unjustifiable behaviour, this incident shows that the BFI can bend under the weight of the reputation of an individual. If trials are part of the selection criteria, it has no business making concessions for one boxer. The shooting federation made no exception for Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra and bronze winner Gagan Narang, who took trials despite topping the world rankings. Wrestler Sushil Kumar has to go through the same process. Michael Phelps had to compete in trials in each category. Top athletes around the world know trials are a part of the framework they perform in. To see Mary refusing to accept this is surprising and appears uncharacteristic. It is something she could have done without.
What next? The BFI has a set a precedent more boxers can exploit in future. If an organisation chooses to accept that it is not bigger than an individual, it opens the door for uncomfortable questions. The BFI may have some answering to do. The chances of being pulled up by the court if one lodges an appeal can’t be ruled out either. At a time it should have been making an effort to be known as an efficient organisation, the BFI has set an example detrimental for sports.