In 2015 when AIBA issued its list of qualification guidelines for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the Indian boxing fraternity was dismayed. The world body issued a total of 63 quota spots for APB (AIBA Professional Boxing) and WSB (World Series of Boxing) boxers. This meant that Indians, mostly amateurs, had far fewer opportunities to earn Olympic quotas. Indeed as of Saturday, only one Indian – bantamweight Shiva Thapa – had booked a place in the Rio Olympics.
For Vikas Krishan, one of only three Indians to have won a medal at the World Championships, however, is making the most of the alternate offered by the APB even as the strictly amateur path seems to be getting tougher.
On Saturday, the Asian Games gold medalist, who previously failed to qualify at the 2015 World Championships and subsequently the Asia-Oceania qualifiers, will be competing in his second APB contest and the first one of its kind in India. By fighting Kenya’s Nickson Abaka in the six round contest, Krishan would have done the minimum required to earn the right to compete in the 2016 APB and WSB Olympic Qualifier in Vargas, Colombia. While Vikas will also be competing at the World Olympic qualifiers in Baku, beginning June 16, the Vargas tournament gives him yet another shot at qualifying for the Rio Olympics.
On Friday afternoon as Krishan and Abaka posed for the pre fight weigh in at a hotel in New Delhi, Mirko Wolf, the managing director of APB smiled for the cameras as well.
“I have been following Vikas’ career for a long time. Personally I feel sad that a boxer of his caliber doesnt have the opportunity to compete at the Olympics and I’m glad we could give Vikas that chance,” said Wolf.
Wolf, 39 a former professional fighter with an unbeaten record of 11-0, felt Krishan taking the professional route to the Olympics was one more boxers would be take in the future as well.
Indeed Wolf feels that the future of boxing at the Olympics would be the professional even if they would largely be under the AIBA umbrella. “The idea to get professionals into boxing wasn’t just an idea that came from AIBA. It was the IOC which said that you have to professionalise the sport. We want to see the best sportspersons in each of the sports at the Olympics. Thats what we have done now,” he says.
And while there are many vocal opinions stating that AIBA should stay away from the professional world, Wolf doesn’t buy that argument. “Pro-boxing is just one of the forms of boxing. Why should AIBA only look after amateur boxing and let the rest be part of the wild west. Why should we protect amateurs and then let them be eaten by promoters,” he says.
Indeed Wolf believes, through the APB, young boxers get a good deal. “What they deserve is a career path that makes sense. We cant protect amateur boxers and let them From the time they go into the gym to the time they become world champion,” he says.
This isn’t to say that however that professional boxers who were not signed along with the AIBA sanctioned professional body would be left in the cold. “We (APB) are talking with the best promoters in the world. We are talking with Top Rank Boxing (a boxing promotion owned by Bob Arum). We co promoted an event with (former world heavyweight champion)Vladimir Klitschko’s promotion,” he says.
Wolf says Olympic boxing’s pivot towards professionalism could herald some transformational change to the nature of the sport. He likens it to the moment professional NBA basketball players were allowed to participate at the 1992 Olympics “This time perhaps we dont have a lot of time. I believe that by the 2020 Games in Tokyo, I can picture something like the 1992 Dream Team at the Olympics,” he says.
However, unlike at Barcelona, where the Dream team swept away their rivals with record margins, Wolf doesn’t buy into concerns of safety or mismatches likely to be faced by amateur boxers against professional rivals. “The top amateurs are in a way professional as well. I’ve been both an amateur and professional boxer myself. From my own experience, you take the best Cuban, Russian boxers and put them in with the strongest pro boxers, you are in for some surprises. Even if you are an amateur, you cant just show up for the Olympics. Its incredibly difficult to qualify. Even the best boxer — Mary Kom for example – hasn’t qualified. Anyone who knows the qualification system in AIBA knows that only the best will be there. And its steadily getting tougher. The notion that pros will come and knock out the amateurs is ridiculous. Olympic boxing takes place at a different rhythm. Its three rounds. You know who is used to three rounds? The amateurs,” he says.