”Mental illness can happen to anybody. You can be a dustman, a politician, a Tesco worker… anyone. It could be your dad, your brother or your aunt.
— Frank Bruno.
“In boxing, if you get angry toh aur zyada maar padegi ring mein. It’s all about doing your bit and winning points. Why take unnecessary panga, get angry and waste your energy?
Professional sports is not always about speed and power.
It’s also about skill, precision and deception.
Nothing illustrated this better than Vijender Singh’s performance during his WBO Asia title bout against Australian Kerry Hope and Ronaldinho’s in the Premier Futsal game for Goa against Bengaluru.
Hope was the more aggressive of the two seeking to flatten Singh with his left jab and powerful right. But Vijender absorbed it all and retaliated with counterpunching of his own—Hope’s only response was to engage in ‘professional’ clinching of the worst kind.
It was the Haryanvi’s first 10 rounder but he withstood the onslaught of a man who had run a half-marathon in 1:35 just two weeks earlier.
Admittedly, it was not a very entertaining encounter. Perhaps, boxers and students of the sport would appreciate it better.
The result, though, was an unanimous decision in Vijender’s favour.
Unlike his earlier six fights, this did not end in a knockout. The prize, however, was his.
Ronaldinho retired from international football last year.
Futsal is his second coming.
The happiest soccer player on the planet was in his element in the game against Bengaluru on Sunday scoring five out of seven goals for his side.
The Brazilian displayed his entire repertoire in a spirited performance that left the crowd astounded and his fans in delirium.
Two exponents of the art of two different games but a common thread shone through them.
Experience counts for something—after all.
Shiva Thapa is the sole Indian boxer to qualify for this year’s Olympics so far.
There could be a few more if results are favourable at AIBA’s World Qualifying tournament in Baku.
However, there are two boxers—both former Olympians, both former medallists—-who are hoping for indirect entry to Rio.
They are Mary Kom and Vijender Singh.
While Kom failed to qualify, Vijender turned professional last year. That ought to have ended his bid for yet another medal but he was provided a glimmer of hope when AIBA opened their doors to pros earlier this month.
Singh, however, has a WBO Asia Pacific title bout scheduled for July 16 in New Delhi against Kerry Hope.
That effectively belied his Olympic aspirations—or so, we believed. The professional boxers qualifying tourney is scheduled a week earlier in Venezuela.
But Vijender has other ideas.
Speaking from Manchester, the former three-time Olympian said:
“Why can’t there be a wild card entry for me? Why can’t the ad-hoc committee demand the same for me from the AIBA? They are making every effort to get a wild card for Mary Kom despite the fact that she has not qualified for Rio. But in my case, there is a clear bias because no one in India is serious about my Olympic participation.
I should also be given a chance if the rules have been relaxed by the AIBA for pro boxers to compete at Rio. I am a three-time Olympian and have fought in Commonwealth Games, Asian Games as well as World Championships.”
Vijender believes he is being discriminated against because he is now a professional pugilist.
“It seems that I am no longer competing for India. The officials believe that since I have turned pro, I shouldn’t have a chance of going to Rio. They feel they shouldn’t help me because I no longer represent India in amateur boxing. I am fighting my professional bouts under the tri-colour. My name is announced as ‘Vijender Singh from India’. All my victories in the pro circuit are for India. My Asian title bout will be for India.”
Welcome back to the merry go round of Indian sportingdom, Vijender.
And it is a merry-go-round.
Mary Kom is being forced to run from pillar to post just to ensure that the Indian Olympic Association files an application for a wild card entry with the International Olympic Commission.
Three wild card entries under the Tripartite Commission Invitation Places are up for grabs in three women’s weight categories — 51kg, 60kg and 75 kg.
These are usually used to promote sport in certain countries.
The IOC can allocate these to players of repute who fail to qualify.
But either the national federation or the national Olympic body has first to apply for a wild card entry.
That, unfortunately in Kom’s case, has not yet occurred.
The DNA listed the criteria for Invitation Places as follows:
“National Olympic Committee (NOC) priority: based on NOC preferences, as specified in the applications submitted
International Federation (IF) priority; based on the assessment of the athletes’ technical level and sporting merit during the qualification period
International Olympic Commission (IOC) priority; based on various principles in relation to the objectives of the commission, including:
NOC and athlete eligibility
Technical level to compete safely and with dignity
Olympic scholarships for athletes”
All this while the IOA’s first choice as Goodwill Ambassador, Salman Khan, steals the limelight with his ill-timed and ill-advised remark comparing his bodily aches post the intense workouts he endured shooting for his upcoming film ‘Sultan’ to those of a ‘raped woman’.
How much better it would have been had Salman Khan spoken a few words highlighting the travails that Indian sports persons undergo merely to participate in an Olympics.
That’s what ambassadors are for, that’s what they do.
Mary Kom’s application for a wild card entry has been rejected by AIBA. The IOC does not permit wild cards to players from nations who have eight or more representatives in a sport. India fielded eight or more boxers at the last two Games.
“Be it the Indian Premier League, football or wrestling, people watch sports for entertainment. It is the same with pro boxing; people come to see a good fight. They don’t want to see soft counter-punches. Nobody comes to watch a nice person. They want to see brutal fights and blood.”
“…pro boxing is a very lonely sport. It’s true. Sometimes you are depressed, sometimes not, but you pick yourself up. You have to remain positive and think about the future.”
Amateur and pro boxing should be separate. It is unfair that young amateur boxers would be destroyed by experienced fighters at the Olympics.”—Francis Warren.
Vijender Singh had given up his dreams of another Olympic medal when he turned professional last year.
The International Boxing Association did the pugilist a ‘favour‘ by approving the participation of pro boxers at the Olympics early this month. The sport was one of the last bastions of amateurism at the Games.
The ace boxer is scheduled to fight Australian Kerry Hope for the WBO Asia title in New Delhi on July 16. Pros can qualify for the Olympics by participating in a tournament to held in Venezuela in early July.
Vijender Singh blew cold and then hot when questioned whether he’s like to represent India at the Games.
When AIBA’s decision was first announced, Vijender said:
“It won’t make much difference to me. As of now, I am focused on my fight on July 16. I have been hearing about this proposal from the start of this year. It’s strange that you take a decision with such little time to go before the Olympics.
First of all I wouldn’t even know how to go about pursuing this task. I would probably have to go through a federation and no one really knows what the status of the federation in India really is. It’s really difficult to prepare for a tournament at such short notice. It will probably be the same for other professionals as well. If you are a boxer who is starting his career, or even someone who has fights lined up for the future, then it will be almost impossible to get ready in time for this tournament.
You have to understand that professional and amateur boxing are two different things. It’s not that one is better than the other, but the two are very different.
Everything changes. In the amateur you only box for three rounds while in professional, you have to fight for 10 or twelve rounds. So the kind of endurance you need is much more. In the amateur game you don’t really have to pace yourself. Even your movements are different.
In amateur boxing, you are preparing to fight several bouts over many days. So your recovery between bouts is important because you have to make weight every day. In professional boxing, you are only focusing on one bout at a time with several weeks to prepare. When you make weight it is only for that fight. So it will not be easy to fight several bouts one after the other.
I feel this proposal will have a bigger impact on boxers for the next Olympics. For Rio, I don’t know if a lot of professionals will want to participate without fully knowing the risks. Things would be a lot more clearer for the next games. At that point if professional boxers know when the tournament they will have a better idea how to prepare themselves for it.
I really don’t see myself competing in the Olympics again. In four years, I hope I will be in a position where I can compete at the world level but in the professional circuit.”
The Haryanvi changed his tune a few days later claiming that he would love to represent the country once more at the Olympics.
“I will try to go to Rio. The last qualification is in Venezuela (from July 3 to 8) and I would love to be a part of it. It is a matter of pride to represent your country at the Olympics and when I am getting a chance now, why not?”
His promoter Francis Warren, however, would not entertain any such talk.
“It’s not possible for him. He has got a championship fight on July 16 and, for that, he will be training in Manchester. He will be training to excel in his professional career. If he keeps on thinking about Olympics, then I’ll be bad guy here.
The timing (Venezuela qualifiers and Asia Pacific bout) doesn’t allow him to concentrate on Rio. I won’t be comfortable with the idea. It would be a backward step for Vijender if he wants to box as an amateur boxer.
What will happen if he gets a cut or injures himself during the qualifiers? He won’t be able to fight on July 16. Who’s going to reimburse me for holding this press conference in Delhi? Who will reimburse for seven months and so much amount of money I have invested in Vijender to make him a world-class professional boxer? The effort was for Asian title, not some Rio Olympics.”
Vijender rebutted Warren saying:
“The promoters will take the decision, that’s true. But they are not the only ones to decide as they have to also consider my wish. If we keep the contract and WBO title fight aside, then I’ll have every right to discuss the matter with them. Olympics is a dream and I’ll definitely love to go to Rio.
My promoters are saying that they have spent so much money on me. Tell me, if I am not happy, then what’s the use of that money? They can’t take the decision alone.”
Notwithstanding the war of words, Vijender was well aware when he made the decision to turn pro that he could forego any chance of appearing for the country in the Olympics. He may have second thoughts right now but it’s unlikely that the contract he has signed with Queensberry Promotions will allow him to participate without their explicit permission.
Also, it’s not as though there aren’t any other real contenders waiting in line to take his amateur place.
Vikas Krishnan is vying for a spot in the 75 kg category as well and hopes to qualify via AIBA’s final qualifier to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan from June 16 to 25.
Krishnan has also qualified to take part in Venezuela under AIBA’s APB programme.
He thus has two chances to clinch a place in the Rio-bound squad.
Who will it be? Vikas or Vijender?
Will Vijender be able to convince his employers that he can do both—qualify and win his WBO Asia Title bout?
The story has all the makings of melodrama.
But there’s a feeling that the words bandied around are mere bluster—all smoke and no fire— and simply an exercise in nationalistic posturing. The sentiments expressed by Vijender are noble but impractical—given his commitments.
AIBA’s dragging their feet on the decision to allow professional boxers at the Games has not helped matters either.
Should Krishnan fail to qualify, it’ll truly be a damp squib. Shiva Thapa is the only Indian boxer to qualify so far.
We’ve already had a media circus with Sushil Kumar challenging Narsingh Yadav’s selection for Rio. God knows we don’t need another.
“I always felt like God made Muhammad special, but I don’t know why God chose me to carry this child.”—Odessa Grady Clay, Muhammad Ali’s mother.