A promotion promised six years back hasn’t come through even now and the sponsors also never quite warmed up to him but Olympic-bound boxer Manoj Kumar says his stubborn streak prevented him from quitting the sport during what seemed like a never-ending dark phase.
The 28-year-old, a multiple-time Asian medallist besides being a former Commonwealth Games gold medallist, is the proverbial dark horse among the three Indian boxers who have qualified for Rio — the other two being World bronze medal winners Shiva Thapa (56kg) and Vikas Krishan (75kg).
“I have Maratha roots and I am inspired by the great Shivaji. I draw my strength form his beliefs, that’s what makes me so stubborn. And it is this stubbornness which helped me fight the circumstances,” Manoj, who competes in light welterweight (64kg) division, told PTI in an interview.
The circumstances he refers to, include a frustrating wait for a departmental promotion he was promised after the 2010 CWG gold. A Class III employee in the Indian Railways, Manoj was promised an elevation by the then union minister Mamata Banerjee.
Since that promise, seven ministers have come and gone but what has remained static is Manoj’s plight.
“I have written to everyone who came to office. From Mukul Roy to current minister Suresh Prabhu. I have been assured of action by each one of them but then nothing moves on the ground,” said Manoj, a tad baffled by the mechanisms of bureaucracy.
“As for sponsors, I wrote to every major company seeking support but perhaps nobody thought I could make it this far. So there was no response from there as well. I have nobody to speak for me, so that also goes against me at times,” he added.
Asked if he ever gave quitting a thought given the hardships, Manoj said, “Not even for a fleeting second. Never. It’s a lot of fun proving people wrong, I feel good about myself now. I have managed whatever I have without the backing of anybody apart from my coach and elder brother Rajesh.”
Athletes from Haryana have usually benefitted immensely from government support, whether it is the boxers or the wrestlers, but Manoj said he has been an exception to the rule.
“May be it is because I can’t bend before people. I speak my mind, I don’t try to please. I really don’t know. In this country, cricketers, even from Bangladesh, find sponsors but not people like me, why? Are we that bad? It is beyond me,” he questioned.
“There have been days, I have broken down mentally. Boxing is a painful sport, the pain that we go through just to be competition ready is immense and to not have anybody to look after in all this is very disheartening,” he claimed.
Manoj, who had to fight a legal battle to get the Arjuna award in 2014 after being denied initially despite fulfilling the criteria, said he has face discrimination at every step.
“People criticised me for going to court but what else could I do when nobody was listening to me. I had no other option and in the court, my stand was vindicated,” he said.
In fact, such has been the stress that Manoj said he wouldn’t mind a stint on popular reality show ‘Big Boss’ after coming back from Rio.
“That should help me unwind after all the drama I have gone through,” said the Haryana-based boxer before breaking into a chuckle.