New Delhi: Indian boxing's euphoric rise in the past four years met a sudden fall as a disappointing Olympic campaign was followed by international suspension in a thoroughly forgettable 2012, which was saved from being complete bummer by M C Mary Kom's bronze in London. Indian boxing had risen considerably in profile after Vijender Singh brought home its first Olympic medal -- a bronze -- from Beijing four years ago.
What followed was a steady stream of international medals that gave the impression of the sport being on continuous rise. But it got a reality check this year as none of the seven male boxers, who made the cut for the London Olympics, managed to finish on the podium. Even though Mary Kom ensured that the boxing contingent did not return empty-handed from London, the five-time world champion's commendable feat could not hide the overall disappointment.
The biggest star of them all, Vijender, lost in the quarterfinals. None of the other six qualified boxers, including World Championships bronze-medallist Vikas Krishan, could make much of an impression as they battled to adjust to a scoring system that required better endurance even though a couple of them could count themselves unlucky given the disparity that plagued Olympic judging. It was the kind of disparity that drew intervention from the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and led to the suspension of three judges and a couple of decisions being overturned in the middle of the Games.
However, inconsistent judging can hardly be an excuse for the Indians, who seemed under-prepared at the biggest sporting show on earth. It was left to veteran Mary Kom (51kg) to save the blushes for the eight-strong contingent, which had left for the British capital amid massive hype. Magnificent Mary', as she is called by AIBA for her unprecedented five world titles, was the lone Indian in fray when women's boxing made its Olympic debut in three weight categories.
And the 29-year-old Manipuri mother-of-two made the most of the first available opportunity by emerging triumphant over younger, stronger and taller opponents to realise a long-cherished dream. In fact, her feat can easily be called the best moment for Indian boxing in the year going by. But the poor show of the men raised a pertinent question -- whether Indian boxing did enough to capitalise on the Beijing high? The answers are still not clear because no one is quite ready to admit yet that the preparations were not upto the mark for London.
Outside the ring too, the sport endured turbulent times as the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation went to polls, which were later declared null and void by AIBA alleging "possible manipulation". The September elections were to lead to a change of guard but what transpired in the Annual General Meeting in Patiala was a farce. Outgoing President Abhay Singh Chautala was made a nominated Chairman following constitutional amendments and his brother-in-law and Rajasthan BJP MLA Abhishek Matoria, 29, took over as the new President after the house authorised Chautala to pick the new head.
Interestingly, Matoria had no known links to Indian boxing and some of the IABF officials were left stunned when he took over the position with Rajesh Bhandari as Secretary General. The election process was questioned by the Sports Ministry before AIBA stepped in to provisionally suspend the federation. The world body asked for fresh elections and told the IABF to amend its constitution to make it compliant with the AIBA Statute. The country's Sports Ministry was not to be left behind and suspended recognition to the IABF, asking it to hold re-elections.
The wrangling is on as to when these re-elections would be called as the current office-bearers are persona-non-grata for AIBA while the old guard is still mulling the next move. The boxers, meanwhile, are wondering what the future holds even though they won't be affected immediately as the next round of AIBA events does not start before seven-eight months from now. But the administrative mess has surely put a brake on Indian boxing's ascent for the time being.
Another massive blow came when the lone Indian franchise in the semi-professional World Series of Boxing, Mumbai Fighters, pulled out due to paucity of funds. More than the funds, this pullout was a result of the alleged "lack of support" that franchise owners, TransStadia, complained about with regards to IABF. Even though WSB offered Olympic quota places, there was hardly any enthusiasm for the event with top names such as Vijender giving it a miss despite being offered big money.
With the AIBA planning to do away with head-guards from next year, the WSB could have been the perfect platform to improve endurance for the Indian boxers but this again ended up being an opportunity missed. And this is precisely how 2012 would go down -- a series of missed opportunities. With no international event lined up for the next few months, the focus would firmly be on the administrative issues that need to be resolved at the earliest to chart out a better future for the sport. But given the situation, the coming year would start off on an uncertain note for boxing in India.
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