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Down but never out

Loans, overdrafts and the inability to give boxers hotel accommodation — the sport hit a low in India just before the Asian Games in Doha. Indraneel Das reports.

india Updated: Aug 22, 2008 00:39 IST
Indraneel Das

Loans, overdrafts and the inability to give boxers hotel accommodation — the sport hit a low in India just before the Asian Games in Doha. Even last year, the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) was running from pillar to post to help boxers participate at the World Championships in Chicago. That they did after taking a loan.

At times, the federation was even forced to borrow on credit cards. Once, even a nationalised bank refused an overdraft. “I don’t want to elaborate on these now. But we did face some very difficult times for us,” said IABF secretary PK Muralidharan Raja.

But when Vijender Kumar enters the ring on Friday, the sport desperate for support till recently will have become everybody’s favourite toy. “We had a couple of sponsors lined up but none gave us any commitment. They simply backed out. Thanks to Mittal Champions Trust expenses like medical and food supplements were taken care of. They gave us Heath Mathews, who has been instrumental in bringing about changes in the team,? Raja said.

“Of late we have been getting whatever we wanted. We have procured good quality boxing gloves and bandages. We had a couple of training-cum-exposure trips in Germany and Kazakhstan. That really helped us,” Raja said. But that’s just a few months ago. How can we forget Heath Mathews’ exclusion from the list cleared by the Indian Olympic Association. It was after some pressure did the IOA changed its mind. Boxing always needed more than two coaches and one physio. So the Indian contingent here had coach Jaidev Bisht to help out. “His presence helps us. Indian Railways has sponsored his trip and his presence here has also helped the boxers in training,” said Raja.

Vijender pumped up

“This is not the end,” warned Vijender after his bout on Wednesday. “I am going for the gold.”

The fighter from Haryana has stuck to the basics of amateur boxing ? box in spurts with combination of straight punches and hooks and withdraw. Patience has been his forte. Emilio Correa Bayeaux, his Cuban opponent, on Friday too relies on quick combinations and patience.

“We will have a strategy in place,” said India’s Cuban coach B.I. Fernandes. “Vijender boxed well on Thursday and hope he carries on with the winning momentum tomorrow,” said coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu.

After a late night on Wednesday, the pugilist had some light practice in the evening on Thursday. “He shouldn’t overexert,” said Sandhu.