Fairness is something every sportsman aspires for, but as far as Indian women’s boxing is concerned, ‘not everything’ appears to be going the ‘right way’ with the Boxing Federation of India’s top-brass indicating that it is open about altering the earlier-announced norm of exempting the gold and silver medallists at the 2019 World Championship from taking the trials for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers, and allow iconic flyweight (51-kg) boxer MC Mary Kom represent the country in the Olympic qualifiers despite her missing out on the earlier set norm by settling for a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championship.
This flyweight category (51-kg) has become a bone of contention with young and talented 51-kg pugilist Nikhat Zareen writing to the Sports Ministry as well as to the Boxing Federation of India fervently requesting to give her an opportunity to fight in the trials for the 2020 Olympic Qualifiers.
It may be noted that a lot of dirty linen has been washed in public domain in recent months, especially after Nikhat Zareen was invited for the 2019 World Championship trials in New Delhi only to be told that Mary Kom will get a direct entry to the marquee event sans any trials. Even at that time, Nikhat has written to the BFI pleading for justice even as the federation stated that she is being readied for the future.
The BFI’s intent on providing Mary Kom with a direct passage to the 2020 Olympic Qualifiers hasn’t been taken kindly in Indian boxing circles. There is no doubt that Mary Kom has been a wonderful servant of Indian boxing for close to two decades now, and eight World Championship medals and her 2012 London Olympics bronze medal only vindicate that. One is tempted to ask if all the laurels she won for the country over the years mean that she should be exempted from the boxing trials.
It’s not that there is a shortage of talent in the 51-kg category, Nikhat Zareen is another exciting 51-kg prospect – just look at her exploits in the international ring this year. Gold medallist at the 2019 Strandja Cup in Bulgaria, bronze medallists at the India Open and Asian Championships as well as a silver medal at the Thailand Open and this achievements cannot be brushed aside. It is clear that she is ready for the senior international ring and one can be assured of one thing – Nikhat will not be a pushover for Mary in the trials and nobody should be in doubt about the fact that the gap between the two boxers are narrowing.
Nikhat is not the only 51-kg contender, Pinki Jangra is another, who often had to remain outside the international ring largely owing to Mary’s stupendous run on the international stage. One is not trying to pick holes in Mary, but the point is every boxer deserves a fair trial, and with the World Championship bronze medal under her belt, it is fair to assume that she is in good form at the moment and would surely back herself to count on her vast experience and skills to make the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers. Ideally, ‘trial exemption’ is granted when a certain weight class lacks strong contenders and in this 51-kg category, there are as many as four including Sarjubala Devi, who is also from Mary’s home state.
To be fair to everyone, Mary’s champion run on the international stage has also meant that the likes of Nikhat, Pinki and Sarjubala had to exercise extreme patience as they await their opportunity to play for the country – their only opportunity to make it to the national team is via the selection trials and if this is denied to them, all doors to the Indian team is shut for them.
Pinki Jangra, in particular, enjoys her fiercely rivalry with Mary Kom over a decade now – the then 19-year-old Hisar-born pugilist stunned four-time World Champion Mary in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Senior Nationals. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games trials held in Patiala, Pinki outboxed Mary in a needle contest, and after the bout, Mary stunned everyone claiming that the organisers had hatched a conspiracy to ensure Jangra won the bout – Jangra went on to win a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. A few months later, the 2014 Asian Games trials were held and Mary exacted sweet revenge defeating Pinki – this time around, the Haryana girl alleged that the organisers favoured Mary. Clearly, there is no love lost between Mary and Pinki. At 29, Pinki is still fighting hard in training sessions hoping that she will make it big in the 51-kg category for India. She won the 2019 Senior Nationals beating Nikat Zareen in the final and also managed a bronze medal at the 2019 Chemistry Colonia Tourney in Germany.
Of course, Nikhat has stolen a march over her this year, which is a different matter altogether. “We all respect Mary for her humongous contribution to Indian boxing, and nobody is denying that. She has so much experience and has won a World Championship bronze medal recently, and why will she be not keen to take the trials. Playing in the Olympics is a dream of every boxer, and I’m no different. Selection trials are our only opportunity to play in major tournaments like the Olympics and granting a trial exemption to any boxer is not fair. I will speak to the coaches as well as the federation and humbly request them to take a call that ensures fairness,” Pinki added,
The Haryana girl, who is a four-time national champion, has been endlessly waiting for her big break, but the invincible run of Mary has ensured Pinki’s last major tournament was the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where she had lapped up a bronze medal.
“It’s disappointing to hear that the 51-kg category trials for the Tokyo Olympics qualifiers will not happen. All of us (51-kg boxers) are slogging it out in the national camp and what for? – we sacrifice everything to remain in best shape so that we can box for the country. The federation has earlier said gold and silver medallists will get direct entries for Olympic qualifiers and now we are hearing that the qualification norm for Olympic qualifiers could change, which is not good for the confidence of all boxers in the 51-kg category. Not just this weight class, trials should be held for every category irrespective of the reputation of the boxer,” says Pinki Jangra.
It remains to seen what future road the BFI wants to take and only time will tell if the BFI takes cognisance of the requests of Nikhat and Pinki and take a fair call regarding selection trials for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifiers.