With the International Olympic Committee changing the qualification process for the 2020 Olympics, Indian boxing’s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva will have to redraw his plans for the next 12 months.
With boxing being held in Tokyo under IOC’s banner, the new qualification process includes four regional Olympic qualifiers to be held next year, apart from a world qualifying event. This year’s World Championship will not be considered a qualifier nor will there be any slots available through World Series of Boxing or AIBA Open Boxing.
“I would have preferred the AIBA qualification process. Since 2008, the World Championship taking place a year prior to the Olympics has been one of the qualification events and to earn the Olympic quota with at least a quarter-final finish at the World Championships also boosts a boxer’s morale. It also means that a boxer has ample time to prepare for the Olympics after earning a quota,” Nieva said.
“We don’t know yet whether this year’s World Championships will take place or not, but if it does, it will help Indian boxers ahead of the regional qualifiers next year.”
Last Thursday’s announcement also confirmed the eight weight categories in men’s division and five weight categories in women’s division as compared to 10 and three respectively at Rio.
Why IOC is deciding qualification format for Tokyo Olympics
Boxers will be in action at the Tokyo Olympics, but with AIBA suspended, the events will be organised by IOC. An inquiry into AIBA's finances and governance issue last month prompted the decision, which has to be ratified at next week's IOC's session in Lausanne. IOC has also set up a task force headed by Morinanri Watanbe, head of the international gymnastics federation, to organise the qualifiers and competition in Tokyo, which will see 186 male and 100 female boxers.
While the Rio Olympics qualification process saw boxers competing at world championships, regional qualifiers and a world qualifying tournament in men’s division, where only three Indian boxers — Shiva Thapa, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishan — qualified, the 2020 process will see a total of 41 boxers from Asia (six each in 52 Kg, 57 Kg and 63 Kg, five each in 69 Kg, 75 Kg and 81 Kg and four each in 91 Kg and 91 Kg+) make the cut from continental Asia qualifier to be held anytime between January and April next year. Additionally, a total of 35 spots will be on offer through the World Qualifying event in May 2020. “The last two Olympics have seen quota places on offer through world championships, regional qualifiers, world qualifying tournament and WSB/APB. Since 2012, we have seen boxers qualifying through WSB and APB also,” Nieva explained.
While no Indian woman boxer made it to the 2016 Olympics with qualification going through world championships and Asian qualifiers, this time they will have a shot at one of the 22 quota places for Asia (six in 51 Kg, four each in 57 Kg, 60 Kg, 69 Kg and 75 Kg) apart from the 19-21 quota places on offer at World Qualifying tournament to be held in May 2020.
“In 2012, there was qualification only through the world championships. In 2016, we had qualification through World Championships and Asian qualifiers. This new system will work well for our women’s team as there will be more than four quota places on offer in each weight category, which was not the case in 2016 when only finalists from Asia earned the quota for Rio. We won a total of 13 medals in men’s and women’s categories combined in Asian Championships in April and if we can repeat that performance in the Asian qualifier, I will be happy,” the high performance director added.
Indian boxers, including Asian champion Amit Panghal, now have to wait until January-April to get a shot at an Olympic quota. Akhil Kumar, who earned his quota for the 2004 and 2008 Olympics in the first of the three Asian qualifiers, believes it can work against them. Akhil also opined that with regional quota winners from each region not eligible to take part in the world qualifying tournament, it will make the tournament easier compared to World Championship.
“I won the quota for 2008 Olympics by beating Athens Olympics medallist Worapoj Petchkoom (of Thailand) at the Asian Championships in Bangkok. It gave me a lot of confidence. Anthresh Lakra earned the quota in 2007 through World Championships. It meant that he had a lot more time to prepare and plan. But at the same time, the new qualification system can help Indian boxers. There are more quota places per category in a single Asian qualifier while in the world qualifier, other continents’ quota holders will not be eligible,” said Akhil.