CHENNAI:Not so long ago, the story of Indian boxing was similar to that of Formula One backmarker teams. Despite good engineers and drivers with ample talent to operate the sleek machines, they could go only as far as their car’s engine would take them.
While Mercedes and Ferrari scorch ahead to take the honours, the lesser teams fight for survival. In the aforementioned analogy, the drivers were the boxers, and the engine was the federation. In India’s case, due to lack of a stable ‘engine’, boxers would eventually ran out of gas while lining up against tough rivals. But this has not always been the case, especially since the turn of the 20th century till the 2012 Games.
The engine is again showing signs of revival. With Shiva Thapa and Sumit Sangwan fighting their way to the Asian Championships finals, they have ensured that the sport — which had been in the wilderness for a while — is getting back on track. Gurbax Singh Sandhu is one man who has seen both the highs and lows up close. Currently overseeing the women’s team, the veteran coach feels that India’s Asian return is the start of an upturn. “It’s good to see them do well in the first tournament of the season. The Uzbekistan exposure tour served them well in Tashkent.”
Programmes for everyone
Gurbax knows that besides training, a good mentor can prove to be a vital ringside factor. “A star course for coaches was conducted recently where 50 coaches qualified. A programme for referees and judges was also conducted. This means that more Indian coaches and judges will enter the picture in the near future. The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) also organised an International Boxing Association (AIBA) commission meeting for the first time in India. We are moving in the right direction.”
Ever since SpiceJet man Ajay Singh came on board as BFI president last year, optimism in boxers and coaches has grown. “All national camps have been held according to plans, and the country is also hosting the Youth World Championship later this year, which is a huge boost for us. The federation means business, and I feel this is our awakening,” Sandhu added.
Asit Banerjee, West Bengal Amateur Boxing Federation chief and East Zone chairman, is happy with the courage the boxers displayed, and also feels that India can offer more. “We have all resources. Talent is there, but if we don’t make good use, it will go to waste. The president has been doing his bit, and we are all working to better the sport,” he remarked.
Another person who has been closely monitoring the sport is 2006 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Akhil Kumar. One among the government-appointed National Observers for boxing, Akhil is satisfied with what he has witnessed so far. “Overall performance has been good. Winning two silver medals and seven quotas is a decent start. I believe we will get even better results in future.” But, the 36-year-old is aware that this is just the beginning. “The Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India (SAI) are starting many initiatives. I’m part of the Khelo India-National Observers Programme. The federation is also doing their bit. But in the end, the performance inside the ring matters.”
Shiva, Sumit, Vikas Krishan and Amit Phangal were among medallists in the Asian meet. There were a few fresh faces in the team, and Akhil is seeking more youngsters with the future in mind. “My main focus is youth. It was hit the most when we had no federation. It’s imperative that we tap talent at a young age so that we can prepare for the next Olympics.”
Asit perfectly sums up what lies ahead. “The engine is not dead yet. If we can come together and work with sincerity for a year or so, it will certainly kick-start again.”