Boxing Popularity in India: Raging Bull

Kolkata Jan 10, 2011 (Calcutta Tube / IBNS) Punching towards a new beginning the current generation of boxers have made India the new powerhouse in the arena of world boxing.

Smart, fast, confident and agile, meet today’s Indian boxers who have the courage to fight and overpower the mightiest competitors in the world. They are new ‘champions’ on the block.
It can now be said that the entire paradigm of sports in India has suddenly undergone a silent revolution in the past couple of years. The religion called ‘cricket’ is finally challenged by the rising popularity of other sports. And it will need no lifeline to answer that boxing and boxers have achieved success.

Vijender Singh and Akhil Kumar have become household names by now. And it is purely their success that has made the sports authority to declare the game as a ‘priority of priorities’ sports.
It was during Beijing Olympics in 2008 that the game witnessed tremendous revival in India, holding the hands of Olympic bronze medalist Vijender Singh who defeated Carlos Góngora of Ecuador 9–4 in the quarterfinals at the Beijing Olympics, to guarantee the bronze medal.

Vijender created an evergreen page in the history of Indian sports, earning him the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award—India’s highest sporting honour- and in 2010 he was also awarded the Padma Shri.

In 2009, he participated at the World Amateur Boxing Championships where he won the bronze medal. In that particular year he added more feathers to his crown as the International Boxing Association (AIBA) announced him the top-ranked boxer in its annual middleweight category list with 2800 points, making him the new youth icon as well as the new ‘pin up’ boy of India.

Continuing his dream run, he won gold medal at the Asiad in 2010 besides a bronze at the Commonwealth Games in the same year.

But it was not only Vijender, who emerged during Beijing Olympic, rather it was the team of four young boys namely Akhil Kumar, Vijender Singh, Jitender and Dinesh—emerged in the Chinese soils as the new hopes of Indian boxing.

Though, all of them failed to win medals apart from Vijender, they surely won millions of hearts by their punches and dominance over their opponents.

In fact, it is for Vijender and these boxers, that Indians have come to know the name of a place in Haryana that was slowly and silently crafting the revolution in Indian boxing. Bhiwani in Haryana has  produced four members of the five member boxing team in Beijing Olympics 2008, including the bronze medal winner, Vijender Singh.

Bhiwani Boxing Club  or BBC, as it is popularly called, has now become a household name for producing the champion boxers  of India and the credit of creating BBC into an international standard boxing training centre surely goes to Jagdish Singh, the coach of BBC, who had founded club in 2001.

Chief National Coach of boxing, G.S. Sandhu once called Bhiwani ‘the Cuba of India’, which in itself describes the class and quality of boxers produced from the centre.

“Haryana and Bhiwani is surely an epicenter, it is indeed a good venue where boxing and boxers have emerged over the years,” says Rakesh Thakran, Secretary, Indian Boxing Federation.

However,  Asit Banerjee, president of the Bengal Amateur Boxing Federation, feels that one Bhiwani is not sufficient for continuing this progress, the revolution needs to spread out of Bhiwani.

“Bhiwani is surely our epicenter. But I feel that the revolution brought about in Bhiwani needs to spread far and wide to continue the progress.”

Speaking of progress, it should be mentioned that 2010 was a crucial year for Indian boxing with boxers bringing about success in both Asiad as well as Commonwealth Games.

In Commonwealth Games, Manoj Kumar won gold in boxing in the light welterweight (64 kg) category.

Indians , however, witnessed a setback as Vijender Singh lost the semi final match. It was an absolute heart breaker for his fans as the country was hoping that he will surely clinch the gold medal in the 75 kg category.

But the Indian boxing icon brought back smiles in the faces of his fans by bagging the Asiad gold medal.

Moreover, Vikas Krishnan bagged gold for India winning the final of the men’s 60kg bout, making sure that the gold rush continues.

The picture of the game has undergone drastic change with more and more young stars joining it, specially after getting an ideal role model in Vijender.

“Vijender played well in the previous edition of Olympic Games. Bringing India their first boxing medal, in a way he has caused a revolution. More and more children are taking interest in the game. They all idolize Vijender and want to be like him. This is really good for the future of the game,” Thakran says.

According to Banerjee, earlier, boxers used to feel less confident as they only had jobs in railways and police.

“Since then we took a pledge that we will send players at the Olympic and ensure that they are successful,”  Banerjee says.

“We failed initially, but without losing hopes we continued increasing national tournaments and eventually we succeeded. Today, the boxers are more confident about their economic security, the roads have been surely constructed,” he adds.

“Since Commonwealth Games there has been a revolution. We have been gaining lots of support from corporate groups like the Mittal, Sahara and others,” Thakran informs, speaking about the number of sponsors they have been receiving these days, although the Federation still suffers from financial woes.

Former Commonwealth Games gold medalist boxer, Mohammed Ali Qamar feels that it was Dingko Singh, with whom the revolution in Indian boxing began as he won the Asian Games gold medal in Bangkok in 1998 and with Vijender and his Olympic medal it reached the acme of limelight.

He says  search for the upcoming talents are done from the sub junior level itself and attempts are taken to ensure that the gap between the transformation from the sub junior to the junior level is decreased in order to produce more successful boxers.

“Cuba has boxing in their bloods but in India the game is getting popularity of late. So we need to monitor and search and them and then groom the potential boxers from the very grass root level to maintain the growth,” Qamar says.

It will not be too much of a wishful thinking for Indians to expect a double gold medal from the London Olympics in 2012 as both Indian male boxers as well as female boxers, led by M.C.Mary Kom, are showing the potentiality of earning the golden medal.

Through her powerful performance over the years Mary Kom has proved that Indian women are also strong contenders for medals at the mega events. Mary surely is the brightest hope.

“Olympic gold is not very far away, Indian boxers have the international potential. Previously, Asian games medal was our target and now it is surely Olympics,” says a highly motivated and hopeful Thakran.

Similar feelings are reflected in the voices of Asit Banerjee and Ali Qamar too as both of them agree that the next stop is surely an Olympic Gold medal, the dream of each and every Indian.
– Supriyo Hazra

(Boxing championship photos by Avishek Mitra/TWF)

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