My fight was against the system, not Mary Kom: Nikhat Zareen
Nikhat Zareen and Mary Kom exhibited emotions that were polar opposite of each other in the aftermath of the much-awaited bout between the two on Saturday at the women’s trials for the Olympic qualifiers in New Delhi.
Mary was clearly charged up, yanking her hand away from Nikhat when the latter initiated a hug immediately after the bout and later lashed out at the 23-year-old and the media in her interaction with the reporters. Nikhat, on the other hand, was composed, applauding her opponent while the referee lifted Mary’s hand and later tried to pacify her supporters, including her father, who were incensed by the result of the bout.
It was clear that Mary had taken everything that Nikhat had done over the past few months personally. She said on Saturday that she did not feel like reciprocating Nikhat when the latter came to shake hands and hug her after the bout because Mary felt that the younger pugilist had shown her no respect.
Nikhat, however, maintains that her fight was not against Mary but against a system that was not giving her a fair chance to prove herself in her weight category and go for the big competitions.
“Even I never imagined that all this will happen,” Nikhat told IANS on Sunday. “It was very new for me. I never expected that she will get so angry on me for going on Twitter and writing a letter to the sports minister. If she is taking all that personally that’s her choice, I can’t comment on that. I was fighting for a fair trial. I was fighting against the system, not Mary Kom or the federation. I was saying that there should be a proper trial before every competition. That’s it.”
There were murmurs that the trials before the 2019 women’s World Championships, which is where the saga between the two boxers had started, did not happen at Mary’s behest. She has voiced her disdain at having to give trials in the months since. On Saturday, Mary said that High Performance Directors Santiago Nieva and Raffaele Bergamasco had said that selection would be done on the basis of performances in international competitions and she had asked for an exemption on that basis.
Nikhat however feels that Mary should be ready to go for trials so as to give the younger boxers a chance to get a measure of themselves, if not anything else.
“She is a legend so she shouldn’t have anything to fear. We are all juniors in front of her. She should always be ready for the trials and be a good example for the youth. Now she has defeated me and gone for the Olympic qualifier and everyone is happy which would not have been the case if she had gone directly without giving anyone else a chance to even assess themselves against her. Hume bhi pata chale hum kitne paani me hai (We should also know where we stand). We should know where we are lacking and for that I stood up and raised my voice. There should be a trial before every competition. I lost the bout but I won hearts on that day and I am happy,” she said.
Nikhat’s fight for a fair trial started with the events before the women’s World Championships that took place in Russia in October. She had travelled from Hyderabad to New Delhi for the 51kg trials for the competition, only to learn that it had been called off and Mary had been selected in that weight category. It was then decided that those who win gold and silver at the worlds would get an automatic place in the Indian contingent that will travel to China for the Olympic qualifiers. Mary won bronze but then BFI president Ajay Singh stirred the pot by indicating that she may be allowed to go for the qualifiers anyway.
All this had led to Nikhat being worried that if a trial does happen, the bout might not be a fair one. The 23-year-old was left feeling the same on Saturday after nine out of 10 judges present at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium complex had given Mary the bout but Nikhat is far from disheartened by the whole affair. “This is not the end for me. Future bohot pada hai. Ye gaya koi baat nai, aane wala bohot hai competitions. I can’t lose my hope after this,” she said.
This sense of perspective did not seem to be on top of the minds of those supporting her at the Indira Gandhi Stadium complex on Saturday. The announcement of the decision was greeted with lifted chairs and angry responses from those who had been vociferously cheering for Nikhat throughout the bout. Their anger was directed towards anyone who was not explicitly on Nikhat’s side, which included members of Mary’s camp, the judges and BFI officials. Eventually, Nikhat herself was among those who were trying to calm down the camp.
She tried to explain the prevailing confusion at the time. “See, even I was sad that I lost. I hid my dissapointment and was trying to get others to calm down. Even I was confused, whether I should handle myself or try to control them,” she said.
“I know my father and people from my association were shouting. People told me, ‘Nikhat go and ask them to calm down otherwise it will be a big problem’ and so I went. I tried to calm them down, tried to make them understand that them doing this is not looking good. I know a lot of supporters had come for Mary also and I did not want any tamasha happening.”
The Telangana Boxing Association members had said that they will lodge an official protest against the result with the International Boxing Association (AIBA) but Nikhat insists that the trials are now a closed chapter for her. Especially considering that there is a possibility of her getting another shot at it with the BFI president saying on Saturday that another trials could be conducted ahead of the World qualifiers which will be held in May for all those weight classes which could not produced a qualification in China.
“If one does not qualify and then there are trials after that, I don’t know who the federation will select for that. In this time maybe a new boxer comes up in the camp. So there are a lot of competitions till March and I will have to prove that I deserve the place. After Mary Kom I am seen as the main contender right now and I want to keep it that way,” she said.