Entrusted with the task of undoing four years of damage, Boxing Federation of India (BFI) President Ajay Singh says the bickering that has ruined the sport is not very difficult to control and he is confident of professionalising the set up with his corporate experience.
Singh, who is also the Chairman and Managing Director of Spicejet Airlines and is widely credited for turning around its fortunes, said his vision for Indian boxing after being elected overwhelmingly for the BFI President’s post last month. “Sports in India seems to be more about its administrators and politicians and less about sportspersons. So I think it is worth an effort to professionalise it. And when I was told that there is this opportunity (in boxing), I thought it was worth a try,” he said.
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“So the idea is to make boxing as professionally managed as possible. I will make an honest effort, things have been very bad for Indian boxing in the last four years…So I will make the best possible effort that I can. And if I fail, I fail. I will try my best. That’s all I can say,” he added.
“I have zero vested interest here. There is nothing that I need to gain from this other than the satisfaction of the sport doing well. I have a corporate or what you can call a professional perspective. I really don’t care about the infighting, it doesn’t matter. Whatever has happened, has happened. We need to move forward and create the best possible system that we can.”
A well-known entrepreneur, Singh said he decided to try his hand at sports administration after watching India’s rather underwhelming performance at the Rio Olympics where the nation of over a billion finished with just a silver and a bronze.
Laying out his vision for Indian boxing, Singh said his focus would be on improving the infrastructure and ensuring best of training for not just boxers but also the coaches and technical officials. “Firstly I want to put boxers themselves in front and center. I want that the sport should be about the boxers, about the coaches and the technical officials. We have to pay attention to them to make sure that they are well-trained, well-equipped and have the wherewithal to compete,” he said.
“We need to create Centres of Excellence for Indian boxing. We need to use the best technology, best sports medicine. I would like to see the best possible infrastructure for boxing in India. And I would like to see that there are as many tournaments as possibly have.
“And lastly, I need to ensure that the boxing federation, much as in other sports, is on strong financial footing. We have to make sure that we commercialise the sport in the most professional manner and there are enough resources available for what we need to do,” he said.
One of the tricky issues facing BFI right now is the Indian Olympic Association’s reluctance to grant affiliation as it continues to have the defunct and terminated Indian Amateur Boxing Federation as the registered body. Singh made light of the situation and said it will be resolved soon. “The principal affiliation is from the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and AIBA has already welcomed us. The government has also been extremely supportive and will accord affliation soon,” he said.
“As for IOA, I think there affiliation committee met a couple of days back and has recommended that we be granted affiliation. There is very little reason for IOA to go on supporting something which is a dead body. We will see, we will talk to them and I am sure we will be able to persuade them, I don’t think it’s a big problem.”
Singh, who chaired the BFI’s first Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, said one part of India which needs immediate focus is the north-east from where boxers have been consistently coming up despite lack of infrastructure. “We need to create boxing academies, Centres of Excellence in catchment areas. For example the north-east is a fantastic catchment area, so we must have a boxing academy there. We have provided them precious little support and they still come up,” he said.
Singh said he has started taking the feedback of boxers — past and present — to formulate a target-oriented plan. “I have started talking to a lot of people, past boxers, officials. I think a lot of people have ideas here. It’s a question of execution. There is potential, we just have to find a way to tap it. The thing is that because it has been so messy for the last four years, there are just so many things to be done and so we are trying to get started as soon as we can,” he said, emphasising on the enormity of the task ahead.
The focus would also be on getting coaches from outside to train the coaches here. “AIBA has a rating system for coaches and it’s a pity that we don’t have enough coaches who are five star or three star. What we want to do is to get really great coaches from outside who will train a large number of Indian coaches because we need to have a pool. You can’t have just 2-3-4 people, you have to have a larger pool of coaches,” he said.
Asked if internal fighting could come in the way of implementing his vision, Singh said he is well aware of the difficult reality of Indian boxing but he has a fair idea of how to deal with it. “I have some sense of it. We have to leave it behind, we have to focus on the positives and there is enough to bind us together and I think it should work. There will always be some problems because we are a large organisation. But I will do my best to control whatever little issues that might crop up.
“Most definitely it’s the start of ‘acche din’ for Indian boxing,” added the 51-year-old who was credited for coining the ‘Abki baar, Modi sarkaar’ punchline for BJP’s winning 2014 general elections campaign.