India aims to be among the top-5 countries in the world, says Boxing chief Ajay Singh

Having put India back on the boxing map more than four years ago, BFI outlines plans to expand the sport in the country
By Deepti Patwardhan

There is no resting on laurels for Ajay Singh.

In his first four years as the president of the Boxing Federation of India president, Singh not only brought some structure to Indian domestic boxing but re-built bridges with the Indian sports ministry and the Indian Olympic Association. The national championships were resumed and Indian boxers got the much-needed international exposure.

A record number of boxers – nine (five men, four women) – have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. Across weight categories, 13 Indian boxers (nine women, four men) are ranked in top-10 in the world. They also have a World No 1 in Amit Panghal in the men’s 52 kg weight category.

Singh, who was re-elected as the president of BFI in February, wants to continue building on that success.

“The first term was all about re-establishing India on a global stage,” Singh told the Olympic Channel. “It was just about putting the building blocks in place and the results were pretty good. Our global rankings went up, we are definitely in the top-10 countries in boxing now.

“In the second term, we need to take it to the next level. We certainly want to be in the top-5 countries in boxing in the world. For that, we will leave no stone unturned. We will make sure that out boxers get the best possible training, best possible coaching. Best possible nutrition, sports science and international championships.”

But even as India is doing well at the elite level, in all age categories, and boxing is seen as one of the most important Olympic sports in the country, the base is not as strong as it should be. India has only 5000 registered boxers.

“We are a country of 1.3 billion people and we only have a few thousand registered boxers. That number needs to go up by a lot,” admitted Singh.

“We need to ensure that at the grassroot level, we are able to identify talent and we are able to give them opportunity to box.

“Also, the national championship structure is quite restrictive. If you are in a large state, you are going to get only one boxer in one weight category. What happens to the other, say 100, who are training in that category? We need to have many more district championships, club championships. We need more open championships, where anyone who thinks they can box can come forward and participate. There needs to be a pathway to catch the eye of the national selectors.”

As BFI is trying to get more boxers into the net, they are also concentrating on building up an ecosystem that can handle a rise in numbers. In the last four years, the number of AIBA certified coaches has gone up from 40 to 264 and that of Referees and Judges has increased from 5 to 26.

“We are on the lookout for more talent at the top,” Singh added.

“The idea is to keep running the ‘train the trainers’ program. In fact, we have a new programme, where apart from upgrading a large number of coaches we also want to see if we can get regular PE teachers and train them to be boxing coaches. This is to get a large pool of people who can train youngsters. We are also looking to appoint a person as a performance director for junior and sub-junior categories.”  

India’s youth boxing contingent excelled on the international stage. At the 30th Adriatic Pearl Tournament, that concluded last week, they finished second on the leaderboard with 12 medals. Five Indian women bagged gold to finish first in the medals tally in the women’s championship.

However, 2021 being an Olympic year, the focus right now is on the Tokyo-bound athletes. India missed out on a few more berths as the last qualifying event, the World Qualifiers scheduled to be held in Paris in May, was cancelled.

But the country has its hoped pinned on the nine -- Mary Kom (Women's 51kg), Simranjit Kaur (Women's 60kg), Lovlina Borgohain (Women's 69kg), Pooja Rani (Women's 75kg), Amit Panghal (Men's 52kg), Manish Kaushik (Men's 63), Vikas Krishan (Men's 69kg), Ashish Kumar (Men's 75kg), Satish Kumar (Men's 91kg) -- who have secured an Olympic place.

“Firstly, they lack nothing. We will give them the best training, best support that we can, including the equipment, coaches, nutrition, physiotherapy that the need and also ensure that they stay mentally strong,” Singh said.

“We’ll also ensure that they get best possible match practice and that they are able to avoid injury. In terms of acclimatization, we will try and ensure that they are able to go to Tokyo early enough so that they can adjust to the time zone, to the conditions over there.”

The Olympic-bound boxers, who are part of a strong 14-member Indian squad, will resume their international schedule with the Boxam International tournament in Castellon, Spain from March 1 to 7.