They are appalled, they are angry and they want accountability to be fixed. Indian boxing’s biggest names are demanding an all systems reboot to halt the sport’s decline after a medal-less Olympic campaign in Rio and their roadmap goes beyond having the much-delayed national federation.
From the country’s first Olympic medallist in boxing, Vijender Singh, to Commonwealth Games gold-medallists Akhil Kumar and Mohd Ali Qamar to the much-decorated M C Mary Kom, Indian boxing stalwarts stood united in their cry for change.
“There has to be some accountability. First there should be a federation and secondly there should be action against officials and coaches who are responsible for the current state of Indian boxing,” Vijender, who now plies his trade in the professional circuit, told PTI from London.
“As for the roadmap ahead, the coaching staff should be overhauled. What’s the problem? The schedule in the national camp has not changed for so many years. We need fresh ideas. If we have to move forward, we have to be ruthless and change the system,” he asserted.
Only three Indian boxers had qualified for the Rio Games, a sharp decline from the 8 who made the cut four years ago for the London edition. In fact, not a single woman boxer managed to qualify for the Games this time.
“Having a Federation is an absolute must. Once it is done, we can have qualified coaches to improve performance.
Good foreign coaches can be hired so that there is a new exchange of ideas and the coaches should also maintain discipline in the camp,” said Mary Kom, a five-time world champion and London Olympics bronze-medallist.
Boxing is currently being administered by an ad-hoc committee after the national federation was terminated by the International Boxing Association (AIBA).
The only foreign coach in the national camp — Cuban B I Fernandes — was suspended for indiscipline during the infamous meltdown of L Sarita Devi in the 2014 Asian Games. Currently the long-serving Gurbax Singh Sandhu is the chief coach, assisted by a handful of home-grown coaches.
“I fully agree with Vijender on accountability, besides the coaching staff should also be changed. They have been around for a very long time and I think now it is time to look for something new,” said Akhil, the Beijing Olympics quarter-finalist.
“Just as boxers are selected through trials, the coaches should also be able to prove themselves.”
Ali Qamar, the country’s first ever Commonwealth Games gold-medallist (2002, Manchester), held a similar view.
“The coaching staff needs overhaul. The pattern of training hasn’t changed for last many years. Simply going out for training trips is not enough, we need fresh inputs in the national camp. A change in the coaching staff can do that. And if we have to go for a foreign coach, bring someone who is accomplished and has the Olympic experience,” Ali Qamar said.
Vijender said getting a new foreign coach in the national camp would not be a bad idea at this stage.
“Don’t we go out to study? Then what’s the harm in getting foreign expertise to our national camp. If there are people out there who are good and have the credentials, what is the harm in trying them out?” asked the celebrated boxer, who was also the first Indian to win a World Championships medal back in 2009.
“We also need people with expertise in sports medicine because boxing is a contact sport. We need experts in mental conditioning to deal with the psychological aspect of boxing. And we need a massive change in our training pattern. Why can’t we explore places other than Patiala for training? What’s the harm in having camps at high altitude places like Leh-Ladakh,” he pointed out.
Akhil also felt that the national camp can be held occasionally at places like Shilaroo in Himachal Pradesh.
“I remember a camp being held there once and it was a good experience, I don’t know why it wasn’t considered again. High-altitude training is always helpful in building stamina. Besides, being in a remote area is helpful in maintaining focus,” said the World Cup bronze-medallist.
Ali Qamar stressed on the need for psychological backing too. “We are at par with the best in the world when it comes to training regimens. We can do as much as anybody but we have to be mentally more tough in big tournaments and for that it would be good if there is professional help at hand,” he said.
Mary Kom said besides the support, the boxers should also be held accountable. “There should be discipline and the coaches should enforce it well. The boxers’ movements inside the national camp should be monitored and they have to prove themselves,” she said.