CHANDIGARH: It all started in 2019 when six-time world champion boxer Mary Kom was selected to join the Indian contingent for the Tokyo Olympics without any trials. The selection process however, didn’t go down too well as young Nikhat Zareen of Telangana, urged the Boxing Federation of India for a fair chance of selection. This fuelled a new rivalry of sorts for the 51kg category.
However, Nikhat’s request for a trial bout for the Olympic qualifiers in Jordan was heeded, and Mary Kom reigned supreme after handing the 24-year-old a 9-1 defeat.
Done and dusted but the ugly face-off could have been handed in a better way, feels Ashish Shelar, the contender to the BFI president’s post in the upcoming February 3 polls. In an interview with TOI, Shelar spells out his priorities if he wins the polls.
What will be your first priority if you get elected?
My first priority will obviously be to ensure that the boxers heading for the Tokyo Olympics are in the best frame of mind and health and also get our whole-hearted support and encouragement. Another top priority is the preparation and planning for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. We need to unearth more Vijender Singh’s and Mary Koms. As a National Sports Federation (NSF) our strategies should revolve around the youth, because they are the future. It is also in line with the vision envisaged by our Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I intend to replicate that in boxing.
How do you plan to resolve the infighting among boxers, for eg, the Mary Kom vs Nikhat Zareen tussle?
It may sound like a very diplomatic answer, but trust me when I say that both of them were right in their own way. The fault actually lay in the fact that there were no set systems in place. During my numerous interactions with Mr Kowli, he often used to get frustrated about his failed attempts to implement standard selection practices in place for National camps. For example, if Rohit Sharma is dropped from the Indian team after a series of poor performances, the only route available for him to make a comeback is by performing in the domestic tournaments like the Ranji Trophy. It is a standard procedure that everybody associated with the sport follows, and leaves very little room for such personality clashes. There was a case of a doctor from Rohtak, who was not registered with BFI, allowed to go on multiple international tours bypassing BFI’s own Medical Commission. So who will you blame? The doctor or the arbitrary decisions?
I n the last four years, Indian boxers have performed exceedingly well, at all levels. Your take?
It has been a combination of factors. The boxers have led from the front putting in their heart and soul, to become world beaters. They could do it because they were provided fantastic facilities, financial benefits and international exposure. Here the credit goes to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Sports Authority of India along with the Indian Olympic Association for creating a robust platform for our boxers to launch themselves in the international circuit. The Boxing Federation of India, also can bask in that glory, for maximising the potential of the existing talent pool.
In most sports federations, politicians double up as administrators, resulting in athletes being treated as second class citizens, how do you plan to change that?
We can co-exist, like in the BCCI. Politicians can play an effective role in administration by getting financial assistance and clearing bureaucratic hurdles while athletes can handle the technical aspects of sport like selection, unearthing talent etc. I put it into practice when I was president of the Mumbai Cricket Association and also when I was the chairman of the Mumbai District Football Association. I plan to carry that same philosophy into boxing as well.
Jay Kowli, the incumbent BFI secy is backing you but till now he was comfortable working under Mr Ajay Singh, how do you plan to clean up the mess within?
I am not the right person to speak about Mr. Kowli’s comfort levels with Mr. Ajay Singh. Now about cleaning up the mess, well we have to get to the root of it and understand how and why it happens. It usually happens when robust systems are not in place. Or when there is no decentralization and the power rests with just one or two individuals. Again, I would like to point out the BCCI example. Look how they have empowered the state units. It is the clubs and states that own the stadiums and they have ended up creating their own infrastructure.
If we look at boxing, BFI does not even have its own office. The Big Bout, I am told, had one of the highest viewer ratings, even more than kabaddi, but did it help the state units? The answer is no. So, the objective is very simple: empower the state units, your own members.
Will a change in the administrative front affect the preparation for the Olympics, which is hardly 4-5 months from now?
The boxers have done all the hard work and are ready for the Olympics so an administrative change at this time should not be a bother. Let me assure you, the change when it happens will be for the good of boxing.
You have been a sports administrator before, how do you plan to use that to your advantage?
My experience in politics and sports administration has taught me that people’s voices, especially within your own party or association should not be ignored. I am a patient listener and it has helped me immensely to get to the root of the problem and solve it.
Any message to the rival faction
Rival is a strong word. Sport teaches us that once we step out of the ring or cross the boundary line, we are friends. The elections are no different, we fight against one another but once the results are out all of us have to come together to work for the greater good of the sport.