The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) has embroiled itself in a controversy after MC Mary Kom was selected for the women’s World Boxing Championships, while 23-year-old boxer Nikhat Zareen, who shares same weight category of 51 kg has been denied a trial bout as per the norms.
The BFI has mentioned that Mary Kom (51kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69 kg) have been selected for the World Championships based on their recent performances. The six-time world champion, Mary has won two gold medals this year — India Open and at the recently concluded President’s Cup tournament.
Zareen, who has also shown good form this year, winning four medals in international competitions including bronze at the Asian Championships, was hoping to challenge Mary Kom in the 51kg trials.
According to the initial fixture of the trials, Zareen was pitted against Vanlal Duati in the first bout. The winner of the bout was supposed to fight Mary. However, it was not held on Tuesday.
In April, BFI had announced that trials will be held in all categories for women and men and the Asian Championships winner would get a direct berth. The Women’s World Championships will be held in Ulan-Ude, Russia from October 3-13.
The direct berth rule was made applicable only for men as Mary had skipped the Asian meet and was in the process of moving up from her favourite, non-Olympic 48kg division to 51kg.
Mary’s first tournament after shifting weight was the India Open in May, where she won gold. She defeated Zareen in a close semi-final and Duati in the final.
On August 3, Mary’s coach Chotelal Yadav wrote to BFI on her behalf seeking an exemption from the trials, mentioning that Mary had been consistently performing in international meets and citing she had also beaten Zareen at the India Open.
The BFI now weighed Mary’s merits and decided to give her a free pass to the Worlds Championships.
Zareen had travelled to the capital along with her father from Hyderabad. Much to her surprise, when she came to the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, her name was nowhere to be seen. She learnt that Mary did not want to take the trials even after BFI officials tried to reason with her.
Zareen alleged that chairman of selectors Rajesh Bhandari stopped her from competing. She wrote two mails to protest — one to Bhandari and another to BFI president Ajay Singh.
“As per our discussion yesterday (Tuesday) & your assurance that my 51kg bout for the World Championships trials will surely happen today (Wednesday), I’m surprised to see that the schedule list which was circulated this morning, my name & weight category doesn’t feature… I request an urgent explanation as to what is happening & what is the final decision in this regard,” the pugilist wrote to Bhandari.
Bhandari, however, claimed the BFI top brass was consulted before taking the decision and they came to this conclusion around three days ago.
Frustrated with BFI’s stance about the entire episode, Zareen was forced to write to the BFI chief. “I’m writing this email out of sheer frustration & feeling of helplessness… To my utter surprise & disappointment, I was today informed just before the bouts were supposed to start by the Chairman Selection Committee, Mr Rajesh Bhandari that my bout will not happen today & there are some internal discussions happening to ensure I’m protected for future & avoid getting exposed at a young age in World Championships. I’m really surprised by this action as I have already participated in World Championships in 2016 and if I was fine then, so in 2019, I surely cannot be young and this cannot be the reason.
“I, as a citizen of India & a boxer under BFI, only request that a fair trial should happen for all boxers under your leadership. If there is a rule for all of us, it needs to be consistent for all of us irrespective of whatever stature a particular boxer is. Unfair practises should not be used for boxers trying to avoid participating in the trials. I look forward to your immediate intervention & restoring the faith of every boxer in India,” the mail read.
Tussle continues from India Open
After entering the semi-final of the India Open in May, Zareen, who had set up a fight with Mary, had said, “My main bout is the semi final against my inspiration Mary Kom. I promise you, I’m not going to give less than 100 percent in the bout. So, I hope this bout will be the best in the competition.”
However, Zareen’s remarks weren’t taken on a positive note by Mary, who was irked by the young athlete’s comments.
“It is better to say that in a good way. They are so lucky to be fighting with me. They will get a lot of experience that way. I have been competing for the country for a long time. How many times have I proved myself?
“I was so surprised when I saw in the newspapers [that she spoke against me], you know. It is sometimes so irritating. Speaking out [against me] is very easy. First, I was thinking ‘you prove inside the ring, then speak,” said Mary.
Her tirade continued even after the semi-final bout, where defeated Zareen.
“First you prove inside the ring and then speak out (against me). She has won just one medal at the international level and such is her ego and attitude! They feel proud and satisfied. This is a very bad habit,” the 36-year-old had said.
If Mary Kom had to pull out of the trials, she could have done it earlier before the fixtures were made so that boxers like Zareen would have known earlier that they would not be taking part in the trials. Going by the BFI’s decision to give Mary a free pass was something unexpected and it crashed the dreams of young boxers who were preparing for the World Championships and eventually a berth into the Olympics. Also, being a legend like her, Mary should have had valued sportsmanship, and went ahead with the bout, instead of withdrawing at the last moment. It is disheartening to see BFI is giving preference to just big names and the younger crop is facing the discrimination especially with the Olympics just around the corner.