The dust has finally settled in the Mary Kom and Nikhat Zareen saga, which rocked the Indian boxing scene for the last six months. The out-of-the-ring dual between the two female boxers grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.
On Saturday, 28 December, Mary defeated Nikhat in the trials of the 51-kg category to be a part of the Indian contingent for the Olympic qualifiers in Wuhan in China next February.
With this win, the seemingly never-ending row started after Nikhat demanded a trial ahead of the World Championships comes to an end.
The World Championship Selection Row
Things started in August, when 36-year-old Mary was selected without any trials in the 51-kg category to represent India at the women's world boxing championships, which were held in Russia from 3 October to 13 October. The 23-year-old Nikhat was hoping to challenge Mary in the 51-kg trials.
In a letter to Boxing Federation of India, Nikant alleged that she was “stopped from competing” in a scheduled trial bout on Tuesday against Vanlal Duati by chairman of selectors Rajesh Bhandari.
Meanwhile, Bhandari justified the move saying: "We got a representation from Mary Kom's coach (Chhotelal Yadav) and after considering it, we felt that Mary had done enough to merit selection without trials. The BFI has been consulted on this matter.”
Nikhat went onto write a letter to the federation as well as Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju urging them to hold a trial, which did take place for other weight categories.
In due process, the matter died down and Mary settled for a bronze at the World Championships in Russia, along with Lovlina Bourghain, who also won a bronze in the 69-kg category.
Ajay Singh Creates Confusion
Matters worsened after the championships when BFI president Ajay Singh, at a presentation ceremony, made a statement that there should be parity in men’s and women’s boxing, and that medal winners at the respective Worlds from both the categories should automatically be nominated for Wuhan Olympic qualifiers.
Confusion prevailed after Singh’s statement because it meant that both Mary and Lovlina were exempted from trials since the duo won bronze at the Worlds.
However, according to a BFI statement, dated 5 September 2019, in the women’s category only the gold and the silver medallist at World Championship 2019 would qualify directly for the first Olympic qualifier to be held in Wuhan in China whereas for the men’s category, all the medallist of AIBA World Championship 2019 will be sent directly for the first Olympic qualifier.
This was in complete contradiction to Singh’s statement, which led to all the chaos.
Meanwhile, an automatic entry for Mary meant that the doors were shut for Nikhat. This forced Nikhat to write a letter to Rijiju, demanding a trial and a “fair chance”. In reply to which, Rijiju said that he won’t interfere in the selection procedure.
As expected, Mary didn’t appear to be too pleased with Nikhat’s demand. In fact, in an interview to Republic TV she even said, “Who is Nikhat Zareen, I don’t know her.”
But at the same time Mary always maintained that she never had any problem with trials, and she was just following the federation’s diktat.
Tension Ahead of Olympic Qualifier Trials
After days of uncertainty, finally in November, it was official that Nikhat would face six-time world champion Mary in a selection trial to decide who will represent India in the 51-kg category for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The decision was confirmed to The Quint by Jay Kowli, secretary-general of Boxing Federation of India (BFI).
“There will be a trial at the end of December. This decision was taken by the performance directors, coaches, selectors and other coaching officials,” said Jay Kowli.
This meant not only Mary, Lovlina also needed to appear for a trial in the 69-kg weight category.
“A document regarding the selection trial was circulated long ago. We are now only reconfirming what we had decided earlier. We never changed our stance,” reiterated Kowli, which meant that it was Singh’s statement which created the stir.
Finally, last week, Nikhat was named among the Indian women boxers who would participate in the two-day trials.
In the preliminary bouts, of 51-kg, Nikhat beat reigning national champion Jyoti Gulia, while Mary got the better of Ritu Grewal to set up the face-off in the final trial match.
In the final, Mary prevailed over Nikhat to confirm her spot in the Indian contingent for the Olympic qualifiers and bring an end to months of controversy. But the final bout was also not without its own share of problems.
Nikhat alleged that the senior pro had used cuss words at her inside the ring while Mary walked off without shaking Nikhat’s hands after the result was declared.
With Nikhat getting a shot against Mary in the trials, it looks like she has nothing else to complain about. Meanwhile, Mary will look to justify her qualification by booking a spot for Tokyo, to further her chances of winning a second Olympic medal.
She had won a bronze at London Olympics, when women’s boxing made a debut at the quadrennial event.