Two days before he will compete in the Asia Oceania boxing qualifiers for the Rio Olympics, lightweight boxer Dheeraj Rangi was optimistic about his preparation. Rangi, 22, who will be attempting to qualify for his first Olympics, is rated as one of the upcoming prospects in the national setup.
“Over the last year, I think we have got a better understanding of how the professional style scoring works in international competitions. I, too, completely changed my style and improved my work rate and I think it has paid off,” said Rangi, who has medalled in the only two international competitions he has participated in ( 2015 World Military Games silver and 2016 South Asian Games gold).
Rangi’s optimism is echoed by other members of the 13-boxer strong squad, which will compete in the Quianán event that gets underway from March 25. However, despite their confidence, the fact remains that the Indian contingent will be travelling knowing that not a single member of the squad has qualified for the Olympics yet.
Shiva Thapa came close when he won a bronze medal at the World Championships last year but he missed the quota after he lost in a box-off for the third place. And while others tried to qualify through the AIBA’s semi-professional setup of WSB and APB, those plans too have come to nothing so far.
Things are unlikely to get any easier in China where for the first time, boxers from Oceania – Australia and New Zealand – will also be competing. Coach Gurbax Sandhu admits as much. “In the past, the Asian qualifiers would have at least six quota places.
This time around there are only three places. In addition, we have to compete against boxers from Australia and New Zealand which will make things harder,” he says.
Sandhu has received a bit of positive news as well. “There had been some confusion over whether the boxers who had already qualified from the WSB or World Championships could compete at the Asian Qualifiers. Now we know that they will not be taking part. This will be to our advantage,” says Sandhu.
However, the challenges are still steep. In the men’s competition only the top three boxers will make the Olympic cut, while in the women’s draw, only the finalists will qualify for Rio. “A lot will depend on the draw,” says Sandhu. The national coach expects a total of four boxers to qualify in both men and women’s category in China. He hopes another four can qualify at Final World Olympic qualifier, which will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan from June 14 to 26.
The current crisis in the Indian boxing setup has only made things worse. With no national body, boxers have found their exposure tours sharply reduced which has had a noticeable impact on their performances. Indeed at Quianán, the boxers will be competing under the AIBA flag. And the possibility remains that even if boxers earn qualification in China, they may not get to compete in the Olympics should AIBA go ahead with its threat to suspend them for the failure of country’s administrators.
Even so, Sandhu sees the tournament as a chance for the boxers to lift the gloom that currently shadows the sport. “This tournament will be very crucial for India because boxing is going through a rough phase and everyone involved needs some positive news,” he says.
The boxers themselves are putting on a brave face. “We cant keep complaining about what we are lacking when we go into a tournament. We have had some good results in the last year and we have to build on it. We cant just give up, can we? Mushkil hai par namumkin nahi (It’s difficult but not impossible)” says Rangi.