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Desolate Olympics Leads to New Federation, Boxers Hope Again

File image of Indian boxer Shiva Thapa. (Getty Images)

File image of Indian boxer Shiva Thapa. (Getty Images)

Four years of administrative bedlam culminated into a medal-less Olympic campaign before Indian boxing took its first steps towards a possible revival of fortunes in a tempestuous 2016 during which the globally money-spinning professional circuit gained foothold in the country.

New Delhi: Four years of administrative bedlam culminated into a medal-less Olympic campaign before Indian boxing took its first steps towards a possible revival of fortunes in a tempestuous 2016 during which the globally money-spinning professional circuit gained foothold in the country.

To count the biggest positive, a new national federation was finally in place after four years of continued tug of war between administrators, who ought to shoulder the maximum blame for the barren run in Rio.

Also not to be missed, was the rapidly-growing circuit of professional boxing in India, the highlight being superstar Vijender Singh winning and successfully defending the WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight title in front of delirious fans in Delhi.

But it is still some time before professional boxing catches up on the popularity charts in a country obsessed either with cricket or Olympic medals. And on the Olympic medal front, it was a disappointing year for India's boxers.

Just three men -- Shiva Thapa, Manoj Kumar and Vikas Krishan -- could make the cut for the quadrennial sporting spectacle, a sharp decline from the seven men and one woman who represented India in the 2012 London Games.

Unlucky with their draws and severely short of international competitive experience, courtesy India's suspension which ended only after the Games, the three could not add to the two bronze medals -- Vijender Singh (2008) and M C Mary Kom (2012) -- that India had secured in the past two Olympics.

The performance in Rio was perhaps the loudest wake-up call that the administrators got given that their wranglings had mostly been covered up by the boxers' resolute performances in the past four years.

At each of the limited tournaments they competed in before Rio, Indian boxers did the country proud by fetching medals but at the biggest stage of them all, they needed more than sheer grit to deliver results.

The Rio debacle in August proved to be the proverbial last straw and after several delays, elections were finally held in September to put together a new federation -- the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) -- almost unanimously.

The body has been doing its bit to make up for the lost time and conducted the National Championships for both men and women within a month of assuming office.

Away from the boardroom sparring and going solely by the performance inside the ring, the boxers have a lot to be proud of barring the blip in Rio.

The year started with the Olympic qualifying tournament for the Asian region in China from where Shiva became the first boxer to qualify for the Rio Games with a silver medal- winning performance.

The ones who came close to a Rio ticket included L Devendro Singh (52kg) and Mary Kom (51kg), both of whom won bronze medals but were unlucky to miss Olympic berths.

In fact, Devendro and Mary Kom can be considered the most unlucky in Indian boxing this year as both failed to make the Olympics despite consistently producing admirable performances.

But what can be considered some consolation for at least Mary Kom, she ended the year by winning the International Boxing Association's (AIBA) Legends' Award for her five world titles among several other accolades.

She also decided to drop a rung to 48kg at the end of the year amid speculation that her favourite weight category could soon be included in the roster for 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The women boxers had one more reason to celebrate in Sonia Lather. The featherweight (57kg) boxer, who took to the sport for anger management, was the lone Indian to win a medal at the World Championships this year, claiming a silver.

Among the men, Shiva, Manoj and Vikas were without doubt India's top performers with Vikas also trying his hand at the AIBA Pro Boxing (APB). The former Asian Games gold-medallist, who lost in the quarterfinals in Rio, capped the year by winning the AIBA APB Best Boxer award, a historic first for an Indian boxer.

Shiva and Manoj, on the other hand, decided to go higher after the Olympics and shifted to lightweight (60kg) and welterweight (69kg) divisions respectively. Both of them put behind the heartbreak in Rio by crowning themselves national champions earlier this month.

Even as the boxers in amateur circuit tried to regain lost ground, professional boxing, which took off in a big way after Vijender's entry into the circuit last year, continued to gain momentum.

The lesser-known Neeraj Goyat was the other Indian title-winner in the pro circuit when he successfully defended his WBC Asia Pacific welterweight title.

Closer to Olympics, the professional boxers got a huge fillip when the AIBA decided to let them compete in the Games and conducted a qualifying tournament especially for them.

The world body later relaxed the norms even further to let professionals compete in all national and international events.

With the barrier broken, more boxers were willing to take the professional plunge even though for the creme-de-la-creme in India, amateur circuit continued to be the top priority.

But for those who had been there and done it all in amateur events, it was the opening up of a new challenge. And some established names who went pro this year included former world champion and Asian Games bronze-medallist L Sarita Devi, the first Indian woman boxer to do so, former Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Akhil Kumar and Asian bronze-winner Jitender Kumar among others.

With the BFI declaring that it is open to a harmonious equation with professional promoters, the boxers can hope to get the best of both worlds in the times to come.

Not to be forgotten were the country's youth boxers among whom Sachin Siwach became only the third Indian ever to clinch a gold medal at the World Championships in November, holding out hope for the future.

If India jostled with hope and despair in equal measure through the year, the world boxing scene was no different.

In fact, it was nothing short of credibility crisis for international amateur boxing as AIBA faced unprecedented allegations of financial corruption.

Adding to this was the severe criticism AIBA's referees and judges coped at no less than the Olympic Games for what was evidently a poor performance by them.

Irish star Michael Conlan called them "cheats" in a televised rant after he ended up on the losing side despite pummelling his Russian opponent, who was later declared medically unfit for his next fight, in Rio.

The bantamweight world champion turned professional soon after, but such was the impact of his angry tirade that AIBA had to sideline all the RJs used in Rio pending an inquiry.

Besides, the world body also revamped its scoring system to ensure that points given by all five judges, monitoring the fight, are taken into account.

Away from the controversies, the world of boxing -- both amateur and professional -- mourned the loss of the great Muhammad Ali, who passed away in June after battling Parkinson's disease for more than two decades.

The death of the 74-year-old superstar, who was revered by boxers and boxing fans all over the world, triggered an outpouring of emotions across the globe with many calling it the end of an era in international boxing.