India had fielded seven boxers in the 2012 London Olympics and expecting the same number of boxers in the 2016 Rio Olympics will be ‘asking for too much’ when one factors in the non-availability of iconic Vijender Singh, who turned pro. The recent Asian Boxing Championship was a first instance of how our pugilists scrambled to seal their World Championship berths. Take the case of Manoj Kumar and Manpreet Singh – they had lost in the quarterfinals and only qualified for the World Championships because the opponents they lost to in the quarterfinals went on to reach the final – a new rule, bit like wrestling where a grappler gets to play in the repechage round if the opponents he loses to goes on to reach the final. The change in norms by AIBA will ensure only a few boxers will qualify for Olympics through the World Championships unlike earlier times when a quarterfinal finish guaranteed an Olympic spot. “I will tell you why boxers will find it really hard to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Unlike the last Olympics, when merely reaching the quarterfinals of the World Championships was enough to seal an Olympic berth, this time around it will get even stiffer. For 49,52 and 81 kg categories, only the gold and silver medal winner will qualify for Olympics, for five categories 56,60,64,69 and 75 categories only gold, silver and bronze winners will qualify and for 91 and +91 categories only the winners qualify for the Olympics. You can well imagine how tough it is going to be,” says Indian boxing head coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.
The rules clearly indicate that a boxer may enter the semifinals of the World Championships and may still not qualify for the Olympics. However, Sandhu believes all is not lost if boxers do not make the Olympic cut through the World Championships. “If our boxers don’t qualify from the World Championships, where getting a medal is so tough, they have two more qualifying tournaments next year to make the Olympic cut. Because there is so much competition for places qualifying through the other two events won’t be a piece of cake,” says Sandhu.
Taking everything into consideration, how many boxers will India have in the 2016 Olympics? “Boxing is an unpredictable sport. At the recent Asian Meet the top Uzbek boxer lost in the quarterfinals of the 75 kg category. Anything can happen on a given day and we see a lot of bouts where a boxer wins by the skin of his teeth. Boxers will take confidence from their performance in the Asian Championship and keep working hard for the World Championships, Olympics amongst other tourneys,” he makes his point.
The rule changes are an impediment for India as it will require a superhuman effort to earn an Olympic spot from the 43 quotas reserved for WSB. Let’s hope our boxers tide over the new rule challenges and come out all guns blazing.