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Written by SHAMYA DAS GUPT A
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From eight boxers representing India at the last edition of the Olympic games in London, we might have just one this time. Or two. Maybe. How sad is that?

At the time of writing this, L Devendro Singh (49 kg), Gaurav Bidhuri (52 kg), Dheeraj Rangi (60 kg), Manoj Kumar (64 kg), Mandeep Jangra (69 kg), Vikas Krishan (75 kg), Sumit Sangwan (81 kg), Amritpreet Singh (91 kg) and Satish Kumar (91+ kg) are all in Baku, taking part in the boxing qualifiers for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. It’s the last chance to make it for some of them while, for Krishan, there’s one more chance, at the APB final qualifier in Venezuela in July. That’s it.

So far, only one Indian boxer — Shiva Thapa (56 kg) — has made the cut for Rio. Among men or women. In a world where countries build on their gains, spot areas of strength and make them stronger, India has chosen to be different. Boxing, one of the few sports Indians were improving at, moving up by leaps and bounds, has taken the downward spiral over the past four years. And all of it has to do with the rubbish the administrators have piled up around the sport. As a result, from eight boxers — seven men and one woman — representing India at the last edition of the Olympic Games in London, we might have just one this time. Or two. Maybe. How sad is that?

The story is an old one, and a familiar one, in which first the Amateur Indian Boxing Federation in 2012 and then Boxing India, the new governing body for the sport in the country, in September last year did their best to flout as many international norms as possible. What usually happens in the real world is that corrupt practices, though allowed to flourish for a while whether by design or otherwise, are eventually spotted and the corrupt are penalised. It’s obviously something Indians are not too clued in about, as news reports on a semi-daily basis confirm, and, therefore, both the bodies are out of favour as far as the international association is concerned. Indians do have the requisite training facilities and the coaches they need, but that’s about it. At Rio, Thapa might just be allowed to fight as an “India” boxer, but that’s not altogether certain yet. What that means, in terms of tangibles, is that these boxers travel without a proper team, only the head coach — Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu — and a handful of others accompany them. If there are decisions that go against them, they don’t have a management team to lodge a protest, take up the issue, nothing. “No one in the international amateur circuit takes us seriously because we are not representing India. We are losing the bouts which we should have won,” Krishan said on record recently. What he says may or may not be true, but there is a strong possibility of exactly this sort of thing happening along the way.

The story of Indian amateur boxing, which showed such remarkable progress in the first decade of the new millennium before dipping dramatically, is a shameful one. If you’d asked me after the London Olympics if India would be able to better its tally of six medals at Rio, I would have said a strong “yes”, and my opinion would have been based on the fact that I expected Krishan, Thapa, Devendro and Manoj to be in the medal fray by 2016. But, brilliant as they all might be, it’s difficult to focus on your studies when the parents are bickering around the clock. It’s an unhappy home in Indian boxing, and the result of the nonsense is clear for all to see.

Despite that, amazingly, India does stand a decent chance of matching or even bettering that tally of six medals, which, really, is the only question we Indian

“sports fans” are interested in. We don’t keep track of the achievements, or failures, of our Olympic athletes for four years, but then get all excited for two weeks when the Olympic Games are on, before going back to being indifferent and throwing in the occasional “One billion people and this, tchah!”

Such is life. But, if you have not been keeping track, you would be happy to know that Abhinav Bindra, still India’s only individual gold medallist, has been putting in the hard hours at training and in competition to get back to being at his best for Rio, as is Gagan Narang. The hot new shooting star, meanwhile, is Jitu Rai, the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold medallist in the 50-metre air pistol category and gold medallist in the 10-metre air pistol category at the 2014 ISSF World Cup in Maribor. He is currently the world No 1 in the 10-metre class, and fourth in the 50-metre category. As anyone in the know will tell you, rankings don’t always matter much in shooting, but you’d have to say that Bindra and Rai, as well as Narang, have as good a chance as any to get on the podium in Rio. And it’s not just them. Three women – Apurvi Chandela, Ayonika Paul and Heena Sidhu -- as well as six other men have qualified for the Olympics, and that pack of 12 should give India hope.

If Bindra is in the hunt for another Olympic medal, so is Saina Nehwal, the bronze medallist from 2012, who has moved up the charts by leaps and bounds over the years and won the Australian Super Series title in early June, showing that she is fit and in form. Only a fool would bet against Nehwal finishing in the top three in singles, and you’d have to back P Sindhu to be there and thereabouts as well. Ditto with the form of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponappa, the doubles specialists.

Like Nehwal, Yogeshwar Dutt would also fancy his chances. Dutt, whose qualification for Rio hardly made much news because of the tug-of-war between Sushil Kumar and Narsingh Pancham Yadav, which, according to the last update, Yadav seems to have won, with the Delhi High Court dismissing Sushil’s plea for a trial fight between the two to determine who should be going to Rio. Dutt has been outstanding in these four intervening years and there’s little reason to believe he won’t be among the contenders for a medal — even gold — in the 65 kg freestyle category at Rio.

Then there are the women archers; the individuals – Bombayla Devi, Deepika Kumari and Laxmirani Majhi, who also combine for the team event. Inconsistency has been the stumbling block for the trio, especially Deepika, but their ability is beyond doubt. Similarly, the ability of the teams of Sania Mirza-Rohan Bopanna and Bopanna-Leander Paes, for the mixed doubles and men’s doubles competitions, can’t be doubted.

Between the shooters and the tennis players and the wrestlers and Nehwal, then, there’s reason to hope. For those six medals, or more. One only wishes boxers had been given the right chance to do as well as they are capable of. Then the six-medal dream wouldn’t end with hope, but belief.

Read 3803 timesLast modified on Monday, 25 July 2016 11:28
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