For Manipur, news from the boxing ring of the 17th Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea, in the past few days have been packed with high drama. While Mary Kom, the sporting superstar in her own right, brought in ecstatic tidings having become the first Indian woman to win a boxing gold medal at an Asiad, stories of Laishram Sarita and Laishram Debendro were heartbreaking. The latter two, from all appearances, were given dubious verdicts by the boxing judges at their respective bouts, both against South Korean opponents, denying them the glory they well could have won. Had they lost fairly, there would not have been any further need for extending the ado, but the developments were far from such an outcome, from the accounts of all who watched the bouts live, as well as all of us who saw them on TV. Even commentators doing the running commentary of these bouts for TV channels expressed utter surprise at the results. One cannot be certain if the judges were swayed by the chants of the home crowds, or else they were, as some suggested, part of a match fixing racket for money, a bane few popular sports have been spared. This suspicion is further buttressed by the fact that the Indian boxers were not the only one to complain of unfair verdicts. Earlier, before Sarita was rudely shown the exit door, the entire Mongolian boxing contingent officially complained of a similar verdict against one of their boxers fighting a South Korean opponent and threatened a walkout.
Debendro bowed out quietly though visibly perturbed when the verdict was pronounced, but Sarita did not. Stunned and in sheer disbelief she wept bitterly even as the verdict came, and then thereafter lodged a complaint against the judgment. She then refused the bronze medal she was still entitled to even after the loss, leaving it on the podium where she was given it, earning accolades from onlookers, but possibly putting her future career as a boxer at great risk as well. From news reports so far, AIBA, the apex international amateur boxing control body, it seems is probing her extreme protest, and at the worst, can suspend her from participating in tournaments under its banner in the future. If AIBA does go ahead with such a ban, Sarita, who is already in the afternoon of her career at ripe age of 32 for a contact sports which demands extreme physical fitness and mental grit, may not have the opportunity or time to make a comeback ever. The greatest disappointment for fans and her would be if she is made to miss the Rio Olympics about two years from now.
What was also shamefully confounding in the entire episode was the attitude of the Indian Olympics Association officials who accompanied the Indian contingent to Incheon. From the picture which is emerging now, it seems none of them were by the side of the two distraught boxers when they needed their help the most. Sarita, it now has become clear had even to borrow the fee of 500 US dollars for making a complaint as the IOA officials avoided joining the action, quite in contrast with what the Mongolian officials did for their boxer similarly dumped by the judges. The complaint was rejected on the technical ground that such complaints can be made, as per AIBA rules, only against the referee but not the judges. Had the IOA officials been by Sarita`™s side when this trouble was brewing, perhaps she would have been spared making the protest all by herself, thereby avoided attracting scrutiny of the AIBA on her individual self. As officials they are expected to know these rules of protest better than the athletes, and they are supposed to give sane counsel to the latter at such times. But none of these happened. If Sarita does get slapped with an AIBA suspension, the IOA officials must be made to shoulder the responsibility.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam