New Delhi: The continuing administrative logjam worsened into a full-fledged factional tug-of-war while Indian boxing`s poster boy, Vijender Singh, found himself at the center of a devastating drug scandal in what was a thoroughly tumultuous year for the country`s pugilists.
Suspended internationally last year, the Indian Boxing Federation remained a pariah this year too, preventing the country`s boxers from competing under the national flag. To top it all, Vijender, the man who attained nationwide stardom after bringing home India`s maiden Olympic and World Championship medals, was implicated in a drug scandal, tarnishing his reputation even though no evidence was found against him after the initial brouhaha.
It was a low ebb for the man and the sport itself even though he bounced back to return to the national camp after being forced off the ring to deal with the scandal triggered by the arrest of an alleged NRI drug peddler, who named the star boxer as one of his clients. The former world number one was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing after being subjected to a dope test by the National Anti-Doping Agency.
In fact, there was not much to cheer for in Indian boxing this year barring a fine show in the Asian Championships, where Shiva Thapa, the latest star on the horizon, fetched the country a gold medal for the first time since 2009. The year started with hectic attempts to get the suspension, imposed December last, revoked with the IBF writing to the AIBA on several occasions only to be snubbed by the world body, which insisted on a re-election and constitutional amendments in compliance with its statute.
Amid the letter exchanges, a livid AIBA temporarily banned Indian boxers as well but eventually relented in the interest of the pugilists.
The country`s boxers continued to compete under the AIBA flag after getting clearance on an event-to-event basis. The boxers, on their part, braved the circumstances, bagging four bronze medals at the Asian Youth Championships in March. Their junior counterparts also shone with a gold and three bronze in the continental meet in April.
Shiva`s gold in the senior Asian Championships was another proof of the boxers` resilience. The Indians also fetched a couple of silver medals through rising star Mandeep Jangra (69kg) and L Devendro Singh (49kg), besides a bronze from Manoj Kumar (64kg). In May, the boxers scripted another piece of history when they returned with a whopping 10 medals, including four gold, from the FXTM International Boxing Cup held in Limassol, Cyprus.
The brilliant show, in fact, gave the Indians their first team trophy in the European circuit. But the performance inside the ring could not take the attention off the shambolic administrative wrangling, which became an ugly factional war by the time the year drew to a close.
This, in fact, prompted the AIBA to stop all communications with the IBF last month and take up the matter with the IOA (Indian Olympic Association) instead.
As if the demoralising administrative mess was not enough, the Indian boxers also had to adapt to new international rules which mandated pugilists to fight without headguards from this year`s World Championships.
Besides, the AIBA also introduced a revamped scoring system under which the boxers were rated not just on the number of punches connected but also for their overall ring craft and technique. The Indians were dealt a massive blow when a crucial June tour to Cuba, where these rules were to be implemented for the first time in training-cum-competition before the World Championships in October, was cancelled after AIBA refused to sanction it.
The refusal to clear this tour was prompted by an overzealous IBF`s declaration of the team`s international schedule despite being fully aware that the AIBA nods came on an event-to-event basis. The effects of this missed exposure trip were ultimately felt in the World Championships as India came back empty-handed for the first time since 2009.
A medal was missing but the Indian boxers did give a good account of themselves as five of them made the quarterfinals despite the fact that they did not get the requisite exposure to adapt to the rule changes. However, in September the junior boxers failed to make a mark in their World Championship, failing to win a medal for the first time since 2005. In fact, none of them even made the top-eight in final standings.
Outside the ring, the IBF logjam took another twist with several state units writing to AIBA to express their dissatisfaction with the suspended IBF`s top brass. The units, in fact, held an informal conclave and demanded that constitutional amendments be carried out as suggested by AIBA by the current office-bearers -- President Abhishek Matoria and Secretary General Rajesh Bhandari.
The AIBA reacted by refusing to acknowledge either of the warring factions and turning to the IOA, which is itself fighting to get the IOC suspension revoked. The AIBA had earlier asked the IBF to hold a re-election by the first week of this month but the factional dispute prompted the world body to turn to IOA.
Going by how things stand today, it is unlikely that the IBF would be able to break the deadlock before the IOA polls are held in February next year. But amid the wrangling, it is the boxers who are staring at an uncertain future given that next year is huge because of the Commonwealth and Asian Games lined up.
In fact, it would not be wrong to say that Indian boxing slid massively due to the sparring between officials, who were supposed to take it higher.