Boxing President Solely to Blame for Mary Kom-Nikhat Controversy
The feeling is inescapable that the unsavoury debate on whether to have trials or not, with Nikhat Zareen in the red corner and legend MC Mary Kom in the blue corner, could have easily been avoided. That is, if the jury – the Boxing Federation of India, in this instance – played, and appeared to play, fair. But then in the sport of gloved fists, where judges and juries are not always known to make fair rulings, this is no surprise.
BFI President Ajay Singh ignited the fire with his recent comment that there could be a rethink on the selection policy. The selectors had stated that only the Women’s World Boxing Championships finalists would secure automatic selection for the Olympic qualifying tournament (Asia & Oceania) in Wuhan in February, where six spots are at stake in the 51kg class.
“I am not even completely clear on this. The rules should be the same for everyone. As a matter of principle, I will never accept that rules are any different for men and women,” he told The Times of India on the sidelines of a function in Delhi recently. Instead of speaking out when the policy was made known, he has let an undeniable aura influence him at this late stage.
Team Selection Should be Left to Former Athletes and Coaches
After a storm raged over the issue raised by Nikhat Zareen through a social media post, Boxing Federation of India has scrambled to do some firefighting. “A decision would be made after the return of the BFI president from the United States. Right now, the old rule stays. We will make a decision in about 10 days,” a BFI functionary RK Sacheti had told The Hindu.
Yet, the moot question is should there be a need to make a fresh decision.
It does not augur well for the spirit in the national camp if the boxers are riven with doubts about the twists and turns their federation officials can engineer.
Indeed, National Federation officials should leave team selection to the former athletes and coaches, stepping in only when this bunch has made an apparent error in judgement or has come across as being biased in favour or against a particular athlete. Yet, for some reason the National Sports Development Code of India insist that NSF presidents chair the selection committee meetings.
An Absent BFI President
It reflects poorly when an NSF president indicates that there has been a lack of communication between his office and the selectors. There are no prizes for guessing that such a gap would not have been caused had the BFI president himself not skipped his duties as chairman of the BFI Selection Committee.
Having not ventured into the technical aspects of selection, it would have been appropriate from him to continue to stay away from issues that needed the domain experts to make decisions.
It will be in the best interest of everyone concerned that the stated policy is adhered to in letter and spirit. With the BFI president rooting for her, Mary Kom will have little to fear in the trials. After all, she has beaten Nikhat Zareen the last time they squared up against one another in competition. Having gotten her way ahead of the World Championships, she must make herself available for trials.
Of Sportspersons vs Federations
Expectedly, the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju has said that decision-making is the federation’s domain and that he should not be involved in the selection of the players by NSFs which are ‘autonomous’ as per the Olympic Charter. The ball is in the federation’s court. Hopefully, this bout will not be first fought in court of law.
There have been precedents of athletes taking their respective National Federations to court – and with different results. Wrestling legend Sushil Kumar found no favour with the Delhi High Court in the run up to the 2016 Olympic Games. Nor did 400m-runners Chhavi Sherwawat and Prachi Chaudhary who were rebuffed by the Supreme Court before the Asian Games last year.
Interestingly, Delhi High Court left selection matters in sailing to be resolved by the Indian Olympic Association and in Taekwondo to the then Secretary, Sports, Rahul Bhatnagar. And the Kerala High Court ordered AFI to secure an entry for middle-distance runner PU Chitra in the World Athletics Championships in 2017 but the deadline for entry had passed.
With such a range of precedents, it would be hard for Nikhat Zareen to envision the outcome in a court of law. Her best bet would to build pressure on the Boxing Federation of India and get it to give her the chance to pit her wits against the experienced boxer so that he can seek qualification for the Olympic Games.
If she were playing a sport where competitions are frequent and an assessment of form and skill can be made, things would have been different. But with only a handful of opportunities to do battle with icons and challengers at home, her task is clearly cut out. She will face a mountain of a challenge before she can secure a ticket to Wuhan.
(G Rajaraman is a Delhi-based student of sport who has been writing and commenting for 35 years. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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