Chairs were hoisted, competitors taunted, expletives exchanged and foul play alleged. The long-awaited showdown between Mary Kom and Nikhat Zareen — in a trial bout to decide who would make it to the Indian team for next year’s Olympic boxing qualifiers in China — will be remembered for the post-match ruckus.
After her 9-1 win, six-time World Champion and Olympic bronze-medallist Mary first shouldered away an attempt at a hug by Nikhat and then uttered an expletive at her. In turn, as she passed by the enclosure marked for spectators, Mary and her coach Chhote Lal were mouthed off by Nikhat’s supporters.
The contest was a culmination of a months-long public spat over the 51-kg spot, during which Mary repeatedly questioned the need for a trial while Nikhat clamoured for a fair fight. In October, Nikhat had written a letter to Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, demanding that she be given a trial bout against Mary Kom before the Indian squad for the Olympic qualifiers was decided. This was after the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) stated that it intended to pick Mary Kom for the qualifiers based on her bronze-winning performance in the World Championships in Russia.
Saturday’s 9-1 verdict, in Mary’s favour, however was rendered of academic interest as soon as it was announced.
“More than the defeat, it was Mary’s behaviour that hurt me. In the ring, she used some bad words for me,” Nikhat told The Sunday Express.
“When the decision was announced, I tried to hug her but she did not hug me back. Being a junior, I expect seniors to respect juniors too.”
Nikhat’s father Jameel Ahmed added, “Winning-losing is part of an athlete’s life. But Nikhat was in tears because of the language used. Boxers shake hands or hug after the verdict, no matter who wins or loses. But Mary instead used an F-word for Nikhat. You have served the country for so long. But what message are you sending out when you use such words in the ring?”
Nikhat was also supported by the Telangana sports administrators in the audience. A state Sports Authority official lifted a chair to protest the scoring and threatened to enter the playing area. BFI administrators then joined in the scramble, and more expletives were exchanged.
“It was an anticipated bout. It was an exciting environment, and some of us got a little carried away,” said BFI president Ajay Singh. “Mary is also a human being and lost her cool. That doesn’t mean she’s now not an icon of boxing. The important thing is, this was a fair contest.”
AP Reddy, a Telangana boxing association official, meanwhile, alleged foul play and said, “Mary won because of her reputation. But is this how a senior boxer should behave? We will appeal this decision.”
Later, Mary broke down and admitted she “was a bit angry”.
When asked about the cuss word she had used and her refusal to shake hands with Nikhat, Mary said, “Why should I shake her hand? When she hasn’t respected me before, why should I show her respect? She says I’m her idol. Then she shouldn’t be making a controversy out of the ring. I don’t like this kind of nature.”
The 37-year-old added: “You drag my name into an unnecessary controversy and then you try to posture. Yes, I didn’t hug her, what’s the big deal? I did not start this, I never said I will not fight you in a trial, then why did you drag my name,” Mary Kom said, in reference to Nikhat’s letter to the Sports Minister.