Great Indian Boxing Mess before the Paris Olympics is shocking, courtesy BFI

Mohammad Hussamuddin and Nishant Dev
Mohammad Hussamuddin and Nishant Dev (Credit: BFI)

The mess in Indian boxing, with just over 130 days to go for the Paris Olympics, is reason enough to ring the alarm bells. The women pugilists, led by Lovlina Borgohain and Nikhat Zareen, still offer hope. Both are hungry and in competitive mode, ready to fight hard for medals in Paris this July-August.

The problem area is men’s boxing where, till now, not even one quota place has been clinched for Paris 2024. All those who have kept track of boxing news will agree that what has happened, a sharp decline, is not some overnight phenomenon.

Harking back to past glory at the Olympics serves no purpose in the present context. Vijender Singh (Beijing 2008), MC Mary Kom (London 2012) and Borgohain (Tokyo 2020) have done the nation proud by winning bronze medals.  But what has followed after that has been disastrous for the men.

For nine male boxers to have flopped in Busto Arsizio, Italy, at the recent Olympic qualifiers, is no longer a wake-up call, but a jolt. This means there is one last chance for them to win quotas for India, in Bangkok from May 23 to June 3.

The optimists may still have felt hopeful that the Indian men could pull off some sort of a miracle in Italy. Nishant Dev tried hard. None of the others showed any form.

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Mohammad Hussamuddin
Mohammad Hussamuddin (Credit: BFI)

With the latest news being that Bernand Dunne, the High Performance Director (HPD), had tendered his resignation and seen it accepted, there is chaos all over. The Irishman may have been successful in his own country, but the “ranking system” he put in place in India never worked. After all, he was seen as the person behind the success of Kellie Harrington, who won gold for Ireland in Tokyo.

For the officials of the Boxing Federation of India (BFI), President Ajay Singh and Secretary Hemanta Kalita, this is a shameful moment. Both these men have not delivered, and need to be called out. It is well known that the president and secretary in any national sports federation (NSF) are responsible, as they have been chosen through a democratic election process by the state units which are affiliated to the BFI. Singh, as the boss of an airline now in turblulence, has many more things to worry about and Kalita, a former boxer himself, did not smell the coffee.

The first signs of India’s men not being in beast mode were seen at the Asian Games in Hangzhou last year. The results were pathetic. Shiva Thapa, Nishant, Lakshya Chahar, Sanjeet and Narender Berwal knew there were quota places up for grabs and could not show strength. In Italy, the men who flopped were Deepak Bhoria, Mohammad Husamuddin, Thapa, Nishant, Lakshya, Sanjeet and Narender. The trend is clear, but the BFI seems myopic, or least bothered.

News of Dunne quitting is no shocker. Rewind to 2022, and Santiago Nieva, HPD, quit Indian boxing just before the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. He moved to Australia on a better deal. So, there is a chain of events which makes one believe that the way boxing has been run in the country has been unprofessional.

RevSportz spoke to a few officials who were in big roles in Indian boxing in the past. Obviously, at a time when there is turmoil, nobody wants to come on the record. “Yes, I will blame the BFI bosses for not being proactive and sacrificing a HPD (Bernard Dunne) is so easy,” said one former official who had been part of Indian boxing in the bright period from 2008-2012 when Vijender and Mary Kom won Olympic medals. “But let me tell you, the selection policy put in place, of weekly rankings, was a no-brainer. If I come on record now, that will be unfair and I still do hope some miracle happens.”

Nishant Dev
Nishant Dev (Credit: BFI)

Recently, even Rajesh Bhandari, vice president BFI, had come on the record and said: “We are not happy with the developments in Indian boxing.” He had hinted that the BFI president and secretary were not proactive and ready to call meetings. Obviously, Dunne saw the writing on the wall and resigned. If it is being made out that he was sacked, that is untrue. What is also clear is that there are differences within the BFI, which cannot be camouflaged.

Just to jog the readers’ memory, Bhaskar Bhatt, the women’s national coach, had resigned before the Asian Games last year and went back to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) as coach. At that time also, in June 2023, the BFI had kept quiet and tried to sweep it under the carpet. Apparently, Bhaskar had differences with Dunne, outgoing HPD, over selection matters and policy. He did not want to make noise.

If Dunne is the villain, as being portrayed by the BFI, where will the next person come from? At this juncture, all top-notch coaches and those capable of being HPD are engaged with teams overseas. In fact, teams from Asia would already have signed on coaches and mentors for the 2026 Asian Games in Japan.

This sleep-mode approach from the BFI is shocking. For its part, the Indian government spends huge money. Sadly, Indian sport is seeing one crisis after the other. Boxing evokes passion and people still think that Bhiwani’s boxing clubs, which produced boxers like Akhil Kumar, could turn out Olympic champions. The rot set in long ago, courtesy the BFI. One cannot forget how someone like RK Sacheti, not a boxer himself, slogged as BFI CEO. He passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Perhaps, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and even SAI will have to step in and see how boxing hopes can be salvaged. The men’s quota-place bouts in May offer a last chance. At the same time, the women boxers who have already qualified for Paris need to be kept in a good space mentally.

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