Thursday, June 18, 2015

Analysis: Does ad-hoc committee means more chaos for Indian boxing?

Indian boxing desperately needs a ‘breather’ from the chaos that just does not seem to die down. A sorry tale of ridicule thanks to politicking and tug-of-war between factions over running the sport, has severely dented boxing in the country. If the recent no confidence motion passed against Boxing President Sandeep Jijodia and stepping down of secretary Jay Kowli were not enough, another ‘crisis’ has erupted in Indian boxing with the International Boxing Federation (AIBA) taking cognizance of the recent happenings in Boxing India – the world body has appointed a five member ad-hoc committee to run the sport in the country, thus belittling Boxing India, which under acting president Meren Paul held its executive council recently.

The recent developments clearly indicate that the current officials of Boxing India hasn’t quite hit the high notes with the AIBA and that is precisely why the world body appointed a five member ad-hock committee with former international referee and the country’s representative in AIBA Kishen Narsi as its chairman. What is interesting is that the five member ad-hock committee also comprises former BI secretary Jay Kowli, (SAI) Director General Injeti Srinivas, former tennis player Manisha Malhotra who served as the chairman of AIBA’s women commission and former IOA secretary-general Randhir Singh, who is also the advisor of the committee. The fact that former BI secretary Jay Kowli is a pointer to the AIBA reposing faith in the former international referee.

It may be noted that the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation was suspended by AIBA in December 2012 as the world body felt that the federation’s elections were manipulated. The AIBA accorded first provisional recognition and subsequently permanent recognition to newly-christened Boxing India last year, which triggered hope that boxing in India will be back on track after a literally headless federation thanks to the AIBA ban. The fact that subtle politicking was at play was evident as Boxing India was not given recognition by the IOA and it was felt that Abhay Singh Chautala was in no mood to let go his grip over Indian boxing and was plotting his way to mark a comeback – he had served as IABF President for a long while before his brother-in-law and BJP MP Abhshek Matoria took over from him in 2012.

The 2015 is a crucial year for Indian boxing – the Asian Championships are slated to be held in Bangkok this August, while the World Championships will be held in Doha in October, which serve as the qualifiers for the 2016 Rio Olympics. One hopes the newly-appointed ad-hoc committee does it job and our boxers do not suffer!


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Factional roadblock severely hitting Indian basketball!

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Indian basketball appears to have hit a ‘serious roadblock! It isn’t a great advertisement for the sport in the country when competitions at various levels have been put in cold storage with the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) being gripped by a wave of uncertainty over the past few months with two factions claiming their right to run the affairs of BFI.
Two factions staged two separate annual general meetings in Bengaluru and Pune last March with the Bengaluru faction electing Karnataka Basketball Association (KBA) President K Govindraj as its President and the Pune faction electing BJP MP and Maharastra Basketball Association President Poonam Mahajan – daughter for late Pramod Mahajan as its president. The Mahajan faction had elected former BFI CEO Roopam Sharma as its secretary.
Over close to three months now, basketball in India has come to a standstill with players bearing the brunt. The Sports Ministry has apparently taken cognisance of the warring factions in BFI and has asked both factions not to hold any tournaments till the time the government recognises one of them. Interestingly, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the central government had sent their observers for both elections held on March 27 and 28.
It is learnt that the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) had also sent its observer for the faction which elected Poonam Mahajan as its President. What is lending more confusion to the credibility of both factions is the fact that the world body – FIBA – has recognised the faction headed by K Govindraj, while the IOA is believed to have recognised the Mahajan faction.
The bickering between the two factions has clearly affected the Indian basketballers. There was even talk that the BFI-faction headed by Poonam Mahajan was lining up plans to hold a Youth Championship while the K Govindraj-headed faction is keen to host the qualifiers for the FIBA Asian Championships. The desire of both factions to hold events is aimed of sending out a clear that each faction have the legitimate right to run BFI.

Who will replace Scott Flemming?

Now with the Sports Ministry slapping a ban on holding any events unless it recognises one of the two factions, it remains to be seen how these two factions are going to run their affairs in future. It may be recalled that Indian basketball had scaled a ‘new high’ last year when it stunned mighty China in the FIBA Asian Championship under American Scott Fleming. Flemming has taken Indian men’s basketball forward with commendable performances at the FIBA Asia Championship, the Lusofonia Games, the FIBA Asia Cup, and Asian Games.
Fleming quit his job last month and the contracts of India’s women's team head Coach Francisco Garcia and Strength and Conditioning Coach Tommy Heffelfinger were not extended, which means BFI has to find replacements for them. The job to find replacements for men and women team coaches is huge but who is going to pick their successors since the two factions are demanding their right to run BFI.
One hopes that the Sports Ministry acts swiftly and at least puts in place an ad-hoc committee so that basketball does not suffer anymore and new coaches are picked at the earliest. It does not look like a compromise can be worked between the two factions, resulting in a united front – it’s too much to expect at this juncture and whatever the Sports Ministry does it must be in the best interests of Indian basketball. “It is up to the Ministry to take a call. Hopefully, something positive will emerge and basketball gets a move-on,” said a former BFI official.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Want to win Olympic medal and go out on high: Manoj Kumar

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Manoj Kumar has seen many ups and downs in his boxing career to know the essence of keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground irrespective of his exploits in the ring. The 27-year-old pugilist, supported by Olympic Gold Quest, is riding high on confidence after winning the gold medal in the light welterweight (64-kg) category at the recent Doha International Boxing Championship.
The Haryana boxer, who had first shot into prominence when he won the 2008 Senior Nationals in Bhatinda beating formidable Som Bahadur Pun, had  won the gold at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games but was ‘surprisingly’ not picked for the 2010 Asian Games held a month later. Manoj, who is employed with Railways, and ranked number six in the world, spoke about his aspirations for the upcoming 2015 AIBA World Championships among others in an exclusive interview.


Q: How would you assess your gold-winning effort at the recent Doha International Boxing Championship, where India reaped a rich haul of four gold, one silver and two bronze medals?

A: The competition in the Doha International Boxing Championship was stiff as boxers not just from Asia but also from Europe, Australia, etc took part. I won my light welterweight (64-kg) final bout against Filipino’s Magliquian Nicole 3-0. I was happy with the way I boxed and the gold medal victory at Doha will surely stand me in good stead for the 2015 AIBA World Championship, which will also be held in Doha later this year.

Q: You add rich experience to the Indian boxing team – you have boxed in three Asian Games, three Commonwealth Games, three World Championships as well as the 2012 London Olympics. Which has been your best boxing moment so far?

A: Of course winning gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in front of the home crowd has to be my biggest boxing moment. The gold win was special because I was out of the national team from 2008 to 2010 and the performance helped me to cement my spot in the 64-kg category.

Q: Winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games should have meant an assured spot in the 2010 Asian Games, which was held a month later after the CWG, but you were surprisingly not picked for the Guangzhou Asiad?

A:I was also surprised not to be selected for the Asian Games as I was in good form at the CWG, but I was told by the selectors that the team for the Asiad was selected much in advance. I took everything in my stride and moved on.

Q: Your elder brother Rajesh Kumar was a University gold medallist in boxing, who later took to coaching and became your coach. How much influence he has had on your boxing career?

A: Today, whatever I have managed to achieve would not have been possible without the guidance of my elder brother. He is a great coach – even when I lost bouts at the national level he will also ensure I’m pumped up for future bouts and not demoralized by defeats. He has made many sacrifices to see me succeed in the boxing ring. I owe everything in boxing to my elder brother.

Q: You featured in the 2012 London Olympics and lost to Great Britain’s Tom Stalker in the pre-quarterfinals in a controversial bout – the same opponent you lost to in the quarter-finals of the 2011 AIBA World Championships in Baku.

A: I always feel that I boxed as well as he boxed. I do see the footage and keep thinking that this was bout I should have won.

Q: You were not originally conferred with the Arjuna Award for 2014, but you had to take the court route to get it.

A: I feel vindicated when the court ruled in my favour. My brother-cum-coach did all the running, meeting concerned authorities to ensure justice is done to me. I was really disappointed with Kapil Dev Sir when he cut my phone abruptly. I used to be a big fan of Kapil Dev and today I only want to know if it was his own son would he have reacted the same way he reacted when I called him up seeking justice.

Q: The 2015 AIBA World Championships is only some months away – you must be really keyed up for the occasion?

A: This will be my fourth AIBA World Championships – I have reached the quarterfinals in the 2011 and 2013 editions and had lost in the opening round in 2009. I’m extra determined to bag a medal this time around and working hard for the same. I also want to win an Olympic medal next year and say goodbye to competitive boxing on a high.

Q: You started the Manoj Kumar Boxing Academy at Kurukshetra in Haryana in 2013. Is this your way of giving something back to the sport.

A: Boxing has given me everything and I want to give something back to the sport. My elder brother Rajesh Kumar is training youngsters at my academy and I do train these youngsters whenever I have free time. Once I called it quits, I will focus on producing champions from my academy. I want to see boxers from my academy win laurels for the country.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Interview with Parupalli Kashyap:"Want to beat top guys on surfaces where shuttle comes slowly"

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
India’s ace shuttler Parupalli Kashyap has taken all the ‘excitement’ of beating world number one Chen Long at the recent Indonesian Open in his stride as he focuses on the forthcoming 2015 World Championships to be held in Jakarta in August.
The 28-year-old shuttler became the first Indian singles player in 14 years to beat a reigning world number one – Pullela Gopichand last attained it beating Peter Gade to win the 2011 All England Championship. In fact, Kashyap is the first Indian singles player to beat a reigning world number one under the 21 points system. Kashyap, ranked 12th in the world, spoke about his big win over Chen Long among others in an exclusive interview.

Q: How was it beating world number one Chen Long of China in the quarter-finals of the Indonesian Open?

A:It is a ‘big feeling’ beating a player of Chen Long’s stature but I had to shut off all the ‘excitement’ as I had to play the semifinals against Japan’s Kento Momota next day. Looking back, it would have been a ‘grand feeling’ if I had beaten Chen Long in the final and won the tournament. At a personal level, off course this win will be a big boost to my confidence. I played really well to beat him.

Q: You became the first Indian men’s singles player in 14 years beating a reigning world number one – your coach Pullela Gopichand was the last Indian to attain this feat when he pipped Denmark’s Peter Gade to win the 2001 All England Championship?

A:  Stats are for the record books, but it’s good to know that I have done something after so many years. I was not aware about this and only came to know about it after I got the better of Chen Long.

Q: What really went wrong in your semifinal against Kento Momota?

A: I think I should have won that match. I won’t say I was suffering from any lapses in concentration, but I was not relaxed playing the closing points. I got tensed and lost five points on the trot. Of course, Kento is a solid player and the fact that he went on to win the Indonesian Open is an indication of that.

Q: The World Championships is your next stop – how do you assess your chances?

A:Well, I believe I’m playing the best badminton of my career and if I keep training the way I do and stay injury-free there is no reason why I can’t fare well in the World Championships. It is a big-ticket event and doing well will stand me in good stead for the future.

Q: There is a feeling that you have the ammunition to beat top guys – something you have consistently achieved over the years – but you have upset the big guns in a tourney only to bow out in next round or thereafter. Your thoughts.

A:I’m not sure why it is happening – I’m working on my consistency – I feel I need to have one outstanding week in a big tournament, something which will do a world of good to my confidence.

Q: How important it is for a shuttler to win in all conditions – surfaces where the shuttle comes fast and surfaces where the shuttle comes slow?

A: I would like to beat top players and win tournaments in all conditions. The conditions in the Indonesian Open suited my attacking style while Chen Long is more of a defensive player, who likes to wear down his opponent. I would love to beat top players like Chen Long on surfaces where the shuttle comes slowly off the air and on such surfaces somebody like Chen Long can be lethal.

Q: How do you think one should avoid injuries?

A: It is imperative to strike a proper balance in your training as overtraining can only be detrimental to a player. I believe balancing one’s training can hugely help to minimise injuries if not fully avoid them.

Q: Finally, how do you look at India’s challenge in the 2015 World Championships?

Indian shuttlers should fare well in the 2015 World Championships – the likes of Saina, Sindhu, Srikanth besides me will strive to do well for the country.

New Olympic qualifying rules will make it tough for Indian boxers: Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Indian boxing may be on a ‘high’ after its rich medal haul in the recent Doha International Boxing Championship – where the country scooped up a haul of four gold, one silver and two bronze medals. But the road ahead won’t be easy for the Indian pugilists given the fact that 2015 is an Olympic qualifying year with the World Championships happening later this year.
The world body – International Boxing Association (AIBA) – has trimmed the number of qualifiers from World Championship, which effectively means that the competition will be even more cut-throat for berths in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“There is no doubt that Indian boxers will find it hugely challenging since the AIBA rules states that only three boxers can qualify from each weight category for the 2016 Rio Olympics unlike the last 2012 London Olympics when eight qualifiers made it from the 2011 World Championships,” says Indian boxing head coach Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu.
Sandhu, who has been coaching Indian boxers since 1993, believes Indian boxers will have their work cut out. “Look, the new AIBA rules ensures one thing – one of the semifinalists in the World Championships will not play in the 2016 Rio Olympics as only three qualify from each weight category. The new rules will make it difficult for our boxers to qualify.”

Recent performances have been impressive

Indian boxing hasn’t been in good health with federation politicking ruling the roost – it even saw Boxing India President being removed through a no confidence motion. The lack of clarity about the functioning of the Indian boxing body coupled with the latest Olympic qualifying rules will make things harder for Indian boxing.
“I can’t comment on the functioning of Boxing India as my role is that of a coach. As a coach, I will like to see more training competitions before the World Championships. Australian men and women boxers are visiting India later this month for a practice session with our boxers, which is good for us,” Sandhu apprises.
The seasoned boxing coach heaped praise on his boxers after its fine showing in the Doha International Boxing Championship. “Seven medals is a very good achievement by our boxers, though I expected Vikash Krishnan and Mandeep Jangra to win gold and they settled for the bronze. It happens in boxing, sometimes things don’t go the way you expect,” Sandhu quips.
So what’s the realistic picture he is looking as the number of boxers qualifying for the Rio Olympics is concerned?
“Well, it’s difficult to say anything now given that we have no competitions lined up until the World Championships. Still hoping for the best,” he fires his parting shot.

Wrestling body must be lauded for cracking the whip on unbecoming behaviour

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Wrestling is one sport that has really captured the public imagination after Sushil Kumar’s heroic bronze medal effort at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The sport maintained its dominating presence in the northern part of the country and spread its wings across the country at a fair clip.

Wrestling went up a few notches up in popularity when India garnered two medals on the mat at the 2012 London Olympics – so much so that India was seen as a new wrestling force and was talked about in the same breath as the likes of USA, Iran, Russia, Japan among others.
Clearly, the expectations from the Indian wrestlers are quite high given the 2016 Rio Olympics is just more than a year away. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has been doing its bit to ensure the sport takes off from the highs of the past two Olympics.
One must applaud the WFI for setting a precedent of sorts by recently cracking the whip on thirteen wrestlers, who offered lame excuses for missing training sessions or even argued with their coaches. What’s more, the WFI has arranged training sessions with the Georgian grapplers as the group of wrestlers were preparing for the Rio Olympics.

A surprise visit proved costly for few wrestlers

It is pertinent to mention that the WFI had been sounded out about wrestlers missing training sessions on flimsy grounds. WFI President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh paid a ‘surprise visit’ to the SAI’s Sonepat centre and talked with the coaches and wrestlers and promptly decided to dump them out of the camp. Of course, the likes of stalwarts like Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt are known to be ‘disciplined guys’ and it is no surprise that they along with talented duo of Amit Kumar and Bajrang were not part of the thirteen suspended grapplers, which also includes 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Joginder Singh.
In fact, Sushil and Yogeshwar are epitomes of discipline and hard work and it is a surprise that the young fringe grapplers cannot take a leaf out of their books. The suspension of these wrestlers may be detrimental to the country’s Olympic preparations, but a strong message had to be send out and the WFI led by Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, must be commended for initiating stringent action. Eleven out of the thirteen wrestlers are Greco-roman wrestlers – Greco roman is not known to be India’s forte over the recent years unlike freestyle wrestling and one hopes the suspension of these wrestlers will not dent our Olympic preparations.
“Some of these wrestlers have been giving different excuses for missing their training sessions, which are meant to be part of their preparations for the Rio Olympics. The WFI has send out a strong message, which was much needed,” said an WFI official.
Indian wrestling needs to ‘talk big on the mat’ and such unbecoming player behaviour must be nipped in the bud if we are to make a robust podium finish in Rio.

Looking forward to 2015 World Championship: Amit Kumar

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
He was the baby-faced wrestler, who grabbed the eyeballs when he became the youngest Indian men wrestler to feature in the Olympics (2012 London Olympics) at the age of 18. The precocious talents of Amit Kumar came to the fore when he scooped up a sensational silver medal in the 55-kg category of the 2013 World Championship held in Budapest, losing to Iran’s Hassan Rahimi – an opponent he defeated in the first round of the London Olympics.
Riding high on confidence after winning the gold medal at the recent International Wrestling Championship held in Sassari City, Italy, the 21-year-old grappler has set his sights on pocketing a yellow metal at the 2015 World Championship to be held in USA later this year. The Haryana wrestler, who is employed with ONGC as an Inspector, spoke about his preparations for the big-ticket event among others in an exclusive interview.
Q. You must be on a ‘high’ after bagging the gold medal in the 57-kg category at the recent International Wrestling Championship held in Sassari City, Italy?
I was really pleased to win the gold medal as the upcoming 2015 World Championship is going to be held in a few months’ time in USA. The competition in the Italy tourney was stiff and I’m glad that I was able to pocket the yellow metal, which will surely give me a lot of confidence ahead of the World Championship.
Q. You initially started off in the 55-kg category and later switched to the 57-kg category at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, where you attained your career-best gold medal.
Winning a gold medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games gave me a lot of satisfaction as it was my best international performance for India, but I have to admit that the competition was not of high standards as we usually witness in World Championships or Olympics. On a personal level, I was chuffed with my gold medal effort since it was my CWG debut.
Q. You made your senior international debut at a tournament in USA in 2011, but you must have been thrilled to bits winning the silver medal at the 2013 World Championship in Budapest?
Yeah, I fought hard against Iran’s Hassan Rahimi in the final but lost to him. I had beaten him in the first round of the 2012 London Olympics and knew how to counter him, but a few lapses in concentration led to me settling for the silver.
Q. How exciting was it for to know that you are the youngest Indian men wrestler to take part in the Olympics (2012 London Olympics)?
First of all, I did not know that I, at the age of 18, was the youngest Indian men wrestler to feature in the Olympics. It was only after I played my first round, my coaches told me that I have created a record and was happy about it.
Q. The 2015 World Championship is being held in Las Vegas, USA in September this year. You must be bullish about your prospects?
I will be looking to win gold in the 57-kg category. I know the competition will be tough as grapplers from Russia, Georgia, Japan, Korea and Iran are really good in my weight category. My confidence is high after winning in Italy and I’m sure I will go for gold in Las Vegas.
Q. Tell us a bit about early initiation into wrestling
I used to do wrestling when I was in class three or four at our government school in my village. One day I, a third or fourth standard student then, was asked to engage in a wrestling bout against a standard seven guy and I defeated him and my school seniors took me to the akhara of Hansraj ji, who later introduced me to legendary Satpal Singh’s akhara, where I have been training since 2005.
Q. What’s your take on the popularity of wrestling in India?
Look, before 2008 no parents would have wanted their children to take up wrestling, but after Sushil Kumar and later Yogeshwar Dutt won Olympic medals, parents are more serious about putting their children into wrestling. Our wrestlers are regularly winning medals in World Championships and Olympics and youngsters are more keen to take up wrestling.
Q. There is a line of thinking that Amit Kumar is an Olympic gold medal prospect considering that you are just 21 with medals in World Championship and CWG under your belt.
I’m delighted to know there are expectations from people to bag an Olympic gold medal. Having played in the 2012 Olympics was a big exposure for me and I’m sure in 2016 Rio Olympics that experience will come in handy. I will go all out for the yellow metal.

Playing in World Championships for my main focus: HS Pranoy

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
HS Prannoy has been one of the success stories of Indian badminton in recent times. The 22-year-old, who is ranked number 15 in the world, is grappling with a prolonged foot injury, which forced him to miss the recently-held Sudirman Cup. The Kerala lad, who had won the Tata Open in Mumbai last December, has now set his sights on the World Championships to be held in Jakarta in August. The soft-spoken shuttler spoke about his foot injury and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q How frustrating it is to be laid low by injuries given the fact that you have been churning out eye-catching performances over the last six months, including a title win at the Tata Open last December?
Well, it can be frustrating at times but as a sportsman you have to accept that injuries are going to be part and parcel of life. I am out of action for six weeks – I was in the team for the Sudirman Cup but had to miss it owing to my foot injury on my left toe. I also had to miss the Australian and Indonesian Open tourneys along with the Sudirman Cup. As for now, I have my toe plastered and can’t train for at least two weeks.
Q Given this prolonged spell of injury, how sooner can you realistically think of making your international comeback?
I don’t think I will be playing in any tourneys until mid-July. I may play in the China and Russian Open events, followed by the World Championships in August. I will be training hard in the month of June and hopefully get better in the subsequent month. Playing in the World Championships will be my main focus. Keeping fingers crossed for now.
Q You had twice upset world number two Jan Jorgensen of Denmark first at the Singapore Open and at the Sunrise Indian Open.
It is satisfying beating a top player like Jan. He plays an attacking game like me and I believe he is not comfortable with my game. At the Singapore Open, I had it easy winning in straight games, while at the Sunrise Indian Open, it was a close affair.
Q The 2016 Rio Olympics is just more than a year away. With your world ranking of 15, do you feel you stand a good chance of playing in the big-ticket event?
I won’t to look that far. As per the rules the top two ranked singles players in the top-15 represent the country at the Olympics and the cut-off date for that is May 1, 2016. So in a year’s time a lot can happen and I don’t want to think of whether I will make the cut for the Olympics right now.
Q The non-holding of the Indian Badminton League since 2013 must be a disappointment for Indian badminton at large.
Well, it is actually. I don’t think the IBL will be held this year. But I really hope the IBL is staged next year as the league has done a world of good to Indian badminton.
Q As a player what do you think will be your improvement areas?
I’m an attacking player and would like to work on my strokes. More importantly, I want to improve my fitness because it is this aspect which will stand me in good stead in tough, energy-sapping games.
Q When you look at the top shuttlers from China, Denmark, Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia, where do you think our Indian shuttlers stand?
I believe Indian shuttlers are coming up in leaps and bounds and there is little doubt about that as the country has been having 6-7 players in the top-50. Our guys need to up their fitness levels – why I say this is because in long, three game affairs against the likes of Lin Dan or Lee Chong Wei, it is imperative to have the same intensity in all three games. At times, I feel we are up there in the first two games, but are sapped of energy in the decider playing against the top guys.
Q Do you think the game of badminton has changed over the years?
Not much tactically, but yes rallies have got longer than before and the game has slowed down. Earlier, a match used to take 45 minutes to finish, nowadays a three-game affair easily takes an hour or so to finish.

Will strive for Olympic podium: Devendro Singh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Among the current crop of Indian boxers, there is little doubt that Laishram Devendro Singh is exciting to watch. His ‘open guard’ style of boxing has entertained boxing fans across the country in his fledgling boxing career.
Devendro, who had caught many by surprise when he as a 20-year-old romped into the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Olympics, stunning 2008 Beijing Olympics silver medalist PĆ¼revdorjiin Serdamba of Mongolia in the pre-quarterfinals, bagged a silver medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The 23-year-old Manipuri pugilist talks about his hopes for the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as his chances in the upcoming Doha International Boxing Tournament among others in an exclusive interview.
Q How are your preparations for the upcoming Doha International Boxing Tournament starting in Doha, Qatar from May 19?
I’m working hard at our preparatory camp in NIS Patiala. The training sessions have come off well so far. We are adhering to what our coaches have been telling us. Doha International Boxing Tournament is an invitational event and boxers from Asia as well as from outside Asia will participate. Asia has some strong boxers from countries like China, Mongolia and Thailand. Hopefully, I will fare well in the tournament.
Q The 2015 AIBA World Boxing Championship will be also held in Doha from October 8-18 – the first time the big-ticket event will be held in the Middle East.
The 2015 AIBA World Boxing Championship is an important tournament for all boxers as it serves as a qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympics. All pugilists will be vying for top honours and I will try to stay fighting free and make the cut for Rio Olympics.
Q Your are currently ranked sixth in the AIBA rankings in the light flyweight category. Will your high world ranking help you in securing an Olympic berth?
Unlike some other sports in boxing it does not matter whether you are world number one or two in your weight category, it is mandatory for all boxers to box in the qualifiers. Given this scenario, the 2015 AIBA World Boxing Championship attaches plenty of significance as all boxers will be training hard to seal their Olympic berths.
Q There is always so much talk about your ‘open guard’ boxing style.
I know boxing with an open guard is fraught with risks, but I prefer to look at the positives. If I execute my plans well, there is more chances of knockouts better known as RSC (referee stopped the contest). I’m comfortable with my open guard style and consider it as a vital weapon to outsmart my opponents.
Q Tell us a bit about your rivalry with Ireland boxer Paddy Barnes – you lost to him in the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Olympics and in the final of the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
He is a good boxer and I trained with him in Ireland before the 2012 London Olympics. I have lost to him twice, but at Glasgow I thought I boxed better than him and got this feeling every time I saw the video footage of that bout. But then close bouts are routine in boxing and I took the loss in my stride.
Q How disappointing it is for a boxer to lose narrowly instead of being defeated hands down?
It can dent your morale when you lose the skin of your teeth, but as far as I’m concerned I always tell myself in such situations that I must be having some shortfalls for which I lost and focus on working hard.
Q Your elder sister Sushila Devi is a former national champion. But  you are often referred to as brother of Sarita Devi.
My sister Sushila used to train with me and always gives me tips. Actually, Sarita is my cousin sister and I have sparred with her and Mary Kom during my early days in boxing The confusion arises because of our surname Laishram.
Q The AIBA has come up with new boxing changes over a period of time, more significantly the scoring system. What’s your take on the new scoring system?
Well, the new scoring system will work out well for boxers, who are looking to throw punches and score points, while it will be a disadvantage for passive boxers, who like to while away their time in the ring with occasional punches. Under the new scoring system, boxers don’t even know the final result even if he has boxed well until the bout is over unlike the old scoring system where boxers, who dominate the early rounds invariably, go on to win the bout.
Q At the 2012 London Olympics, there was not much of expectations from you as a 20-year-old. Do you think you have lifted the expectations of boxing fans of winning a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics?
It’s good to know that people are having high expectations from me. I will try to put my best foot forward in the 2016 Rio Olympics and hopefully make a podium finish.

Indian Badminton League (IBL) tonic a must for Indian badminton

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
The strained ties between the BAI and Sporty Solutionz appear to have cast a dark shadow over the IBL happening this year. There is no doubt that Indian badminton is coming up in leaps and bounds. India has consistently had six to seven players placed in the top-50 over the last couple of years – something even powerhouses like China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia or Malaysia cannot brag about.
If there is one sport that has given India plenty of ‘respect’ on the world stage performance-wise, it has to be badminton – so what if the sport does not enjoy much corporate patronage. No one can deny the fact that Indians are fast emerging as a badminton force across the globe – without overemphasizing much one has to say that traditional powerhouses like China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Denmark are made to sweat by the Indian brigade of K Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap, HS Pranoy, Ajay Jayaram, RMV Gurusaidutt and B Sai Praneeth in the men’s section and Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and PC Thulasi in the women’s section.

Given this scenario, it is little disheartening to see that there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Indian Badminton League (IBL). Call it an ego tussle between two parties, call it anything you want, but the bottom-line is that the non-holding of the league since the inaugural edition in 2013 has only made the sport poorer more than anything else.
The recent media reports of Badminton Association of India (BAI) terminating its agreement with Sporty Solutionz has left a bad taste in all badminton fans’ mouths. Of course, it won’t be an exaggeration to suggest that the IBL has been a ‘jinxed’ event following the high-voltage inaugural edition in 2013.

The IBL was a howling success in 2013 and the sport really got a ‘boost’ in terms of popularity and money. The league was seen just what the doctor ordered for Indian badminton.
One hopes that better sense prevails in the warring parties -  BAI and Sporty Solutionz – and the much-talked about league is held this year. That’s all badminton lovers in the country would be hoping for!