What started at the India Open in May this year may have affected the 23-year-old boxer Nikhat Zareen’s career. Indian boxing great Mary Kom is selected for the upcoming Women’s World Boxing Championships without a fight. This may seem a fair moment for the champion but is it really so? Due to Kom’s selection, other potential boxers have missed the opportunity to compete fair and have missed out on trials which were blindly handed over to Kom. When Kom was selected, former world junior champion and another gem of the sport Zareen, who shares the same weight category of 51 kg as Kom, meanwhile, was ready for her trial on Tuesday but at the last moment was denied a trial bout.

At her career’s peak, Zareen has been showing good form this year as she won four medals in international competitions including bronze at the Asian Championships. She idolises Kom (who has already claimed two gold medals this year — India Open and a recent tournament in Indonesia) and was hoping to challenge her in the 51kg trials, while participating in a fair fight. According to the initial fixture of the trials, Zareen was to box against Vanlal Duati in the first bout and the winner of the bout was supposed to fight Kom. However, it was not held on Tuesday even though Zareen was all ready to go into the ring. According to the young boxer, she was not informed prior and was allegedly “stopped from competing” in a scheduled trial bout by chairman of selectors Rajesh Bhandari. Was this justified for the young boxer’s career? This is extremely partial and opposite to universal principles or rights to sportsmanship.

The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) is now embroiled in a controversy after Kom and Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) have got direct entries in the squad. It is believed that they were selected on the basis of the recent performances. Zareen was among the ones to call this out in a letter to the BFI. She called the selection process biased.

“As per our discussion yesterday (Tuesday) and your assurance that my 51kg bout for the World Championships trials will surely happen today (Wednesday), I’m surprised to see that the schedule list which was circulated this morning, my name and weight category doesn’t feature… I request an urgent explanation as to what is happening and what is the final decision in this regard,” the pugilist wrote to Bhandari

Nikhat Zareen Meena Kumari Devi became the first set of Indian women to win gold medals at the Strandja Memorial Boxing tournament.
Nikhat Zareen boxer
PC BFI_official

This has resulted in controversial headlines in the circuit with sports followers calling out the entire incident on Twitter. They are taking Zareen’s side and said the direct selection was unfair to her. Some pointed out that a fair national trial is mandatory in almost all sports, even for the Olympics. A few others have also argued that it was Mary Kom herself who asked for this partial treatment.

Either way, the decision reflects wrongly upon the boxing federation and how the sport works in the country. It also put the spotlight on Mary Kom and her sportsmanship.

Feud continues from India Open

Mary’s first tournament after shifting weight was the India Open in May, where she won gold. It was there she faced and defeated Zareen in a close semi-final and Duati in the final, and both engaged in an indirect feud.

Six-time world champion Kom over-reacted when she heard Zareen commenting in the media that she was excited to take on her ‘idol’ and she would “put up a strong fight by using her brain” in the India Open 51kg semi-finals. The celebrated Manipuri boxer was upset by this remark and replied, “Every bout is a new experience for me. Even I don’t know who this girl is. I’ve been fighting since many years now. I clearly want to say I don’t want all this. It has come out in the newspapers that she’s challenging me.”

Talking about Zareen’s gold medal win at the Strandja Memorial in Bulgaria earlier this year, Kom further added, “She has won just one medal at the international level and such is her ego and attitude! They feel proud and satisfied. This is a very bad habit.”

The 36-year-old Kom even slammed her when told that Nikhat considered her as her idol. She said, “Why they challenge me then? Idol means you have to show respect, talk with respect.” She added, “How can she speak like that? I have already achieved a lot. I have been fighting for almost 20 years with a lot of hard work and from the bottom of my heart.”

Responding to Zareen’s letter, chairman of selectors Rajesh Bhandari said the “carefully thought out decision” to pick Mary Kom has been taken keeping India’s medal prospects in mind.

“We have to give priority to India’s medal chances and it is our unanimous belief that at this point Mary Kom is our strongest bet in this category,” he told PTI.

Even though Kom has consistently defeated Zareen in every event they faced each other, shouldn’t she deserve a fair chance to put up another fight against the boxing legend, even if it means she fails? Zareen should at least have been given the opportunity.

Last word

It is a matter of taking into consideration the best interests of the sport versus the best interests of a sportsperson. I go on to raise both questions keeping Mary Kom in mind. Kom had a condescending reaction after she got overconfident due to her consistent winning streak. Yes, she is a brilliant sport star and idol to many but taking advantage of her position as a senior boxer to chuck out the young boxer is not morally justified. Their dreams matter too. Anyone who cares about sports and equality would certainly support this point of view. And urge senior sportsperson to have such behaviour that future generation look up to them as role models.

Feature Image Credit: thetraveltrunk.in

The views expressed are the writer’s own

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