CHENNAI: Boxing Federation of India president Ajay Singh is warming up for elections that took a dramatic turn with the entry of Ashish Shelar, BJP MLA from Mumbai's Bandra West.
In an informal chat with The New Indian Express, the owner of SpiceJet talks about why his work for the development of boxing cannot be ignored come December 18. For the first time, he talks about his secretary-general.
Shelar is set to contest for the BFI president’s post. Why do you think you should get the backing of your units?
Basically, you need to look at the work we put together in the last four years and at the results of Indian boxers. Look at the change in Indian boxing globally. If people think that good work has been done over the last four years and that we moved forward significantly, then they should vote for me. If they feel it did not happen, then they should not vote for me.
These are the same people who contested and campaigned in the last elections. Now canvassing has started, for and against. Some members feel your position is fine as of now. Do you see changes in the next two weeks?
I don’t know. My focus is not on politics. My focus is on boxing the sport and boxers. I did my best for both. In four years, the boxers are in front and centre. My job was to ensure they got the best possible training, best possible nutrition, best possible opportunities in terms of international competitions. That they were able to perform well, which they have so brilliantly. We have 12 boxers in the top 10 in the world. India is among the top 10 teams.
We have had best performances at the Commonwealth, Asian Games and the World Championships for men and women. Even in youth. We have nine boxers in the Olympics, a record, with qualification rounds left. We started the boxing league. We made sure we had great relations with the Indian Olympic Association, state units and the government of India.
The budgetary allocation has been the highest. We were getting three-four crores when I joined and now we get Rs 55 crore. That’s because they have seen how we are performing. They say we are the best performing federation. There’s a lot to be done though. I tried. If after all these something else happens, then so be it. I can only do what I can for sports. I don’t want to get into politics.
Your secretary-general is backing the rival. Doesn’t it reflect poorly on BFI? Doesn’t it show there’s a split?
No. I already told the secretary-general (Jay Kowli) that I would not support his candidacy again. I made that clear to him and to everybody. So he wants to prop up somebody else. I think his continuance as secretary-general was not appropriate. Then, of course, he had to find his own way.
Was this done before finalising the candidates for office-bearers?
Yes. I told him well before.
There were differences between the president's office and the secretary-general earlier too …
Everybody is entitled to different views. Ultimately, the proof of it is in performance. We took a lot of decisions and moved forward. I tried to support this by giving time and financing a lot of activities. If you look at championships across the world, I don’t think India has ever performed this well. I think we did well from the mess that I inherited to what it is today. There’s been a radical change. We need to have people who are positive about the sport and think about it and not so much about politics. It is only natural that I want some changes in my team.
When you became president, you brought your own set of people which did not go down well with some senior members…
At that point, to be honest, I did not know too many people in boxing. So I went by the advice I was given while building my team. I have no complaints. Ultimately as BFI, we did well. It is about teamwork. In any team, you evaluate how team members are doing and if we run this for another four years, I would like to run with some changes in my team.
There are a lot of people who contributed to sports over the years. We can find roles for many of them and seek advice from many of them. The numbers are so large that some people would inevitably feel a little left behind. But ultimately, the sport is bigger than the people. Whoever is at the helm has to take into account that what we are doing is for the benefit of the sport and not for the benefit of individuals.
Your vision, if elected?
I want India in the top 5. It is achievable. I would like to see India win medals at the Olympics. I want to see that we develop grassroots boxing much more and get a larger pool of young boxers into the system. I would like to see many more open championships so that we identify beyond the existing structure. I would see that more opportunity is given to many more youngsters by holding open, inter-district championships and so on. I would like to see better use of sports science. I would like the state units to take more responsibility for development in districts. And our commission should be more empowered on technical issues related to boxing.
We are one country. We need to primarily consider the interest of our country and sports. We need to reduce politics in sports and focus on sports and sportspersons.