By Oken Jeet Sandham
In my 36 years of sports careers particularly in the field of martials arts – Karate, Kick-Boxing and later 25 years in Muaythai – I have never come across such a humiliating sporting incidents like the one where India’s boxing star Sarita Devi’s semifinal fight against her South Korean opponent Jina Park on September 30, 2014 on the ongoing 17th Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea.
I was having food while Sarita’s boxing match with her South Korean opponent Park came in on live TV. I just shoved my plate aside and started gluing to the live TV showing her dominating fight against her opponent. The first round was somewhat neck to neck though she was slightly ahead of her opponent. But the rest of the rounds, she gave her ferocious punches to her opponent with her fantastic footwork. Even at following rounds, Park simply could not defend herself Sarita’s ferocious attacks and was off-balanced at many times.
Being in sports for 36 years and also having judged on many world kick Boxing and Muaythai tournaments including 13th Asian Games at Bangkok in 1998 and also 24th SEA Games at Korat, Thailand in 2007, I was banging my dining table as soon as the Sarita’s fight against Park was over, shouting, “Oh, Sarita wins.” But in no time, all hell broke loose when the referee lifted Park’s hand as winner. I was still speechless and remained as stupor unbelieving the judging over this match, because it was so hugely different the boxing skills and prowess between the two boxers. Sarita’s boxing skills and prowess dominated during the fight. This greatest injustice sent instant shock waves across the world.
I would not have much thinking even if Park was declared winner if their fight was somehow neck-to-neck or near neck-to-neck. But in the case of Sarita’s semifinal fight against Park on September 30 at Seonhak Gymnasium was something no judges could manipulate for the simple fact that Sarita had far exceeded than her opponent in attacks and punches with excellent footwork.
Then seeing the points given by the judges on their match becoming more ridiculous because the entire judges came in favor of Park and not even one judge came in favor of Sarita. This incident has simply tarnished the image of the technical officials of AIBA besides creating massive question mark on their activities.
In any game, the standard of the match depends on the quality of judging and not the match. Even for any new game to get Olympic recognition it’s judging and refereeing needs first examining. And if the judging and refereeing are not up to the mark, no game can be qualified to enter into Olympic Games or Asian Games.
Whatever the explanations or arguments that might come after this highly questionable and controversial match, the simple and plain truth is this historic match has been video recorded and telecast worldwide. The match has been in YouTube and other social media networking sites and it can never be misinterpreted.
In fact, the whole country was overjoyed when legendary India boxer Mary Kom won Gold Medal in 51kg category in the Asian Games a day after Sarita’s final berth in the 60kg category was deliberately robbed off. But Sarita’s controversial match was prominently splashed in all the front pages of newspapers in India and the country’s media had done remarkable justice by openly defying the controversial results given by the judges on Sarita’s fight against Park. They said she lost out due to “unfair” decisions during her bout. They all agreed that Sarita was the real winner in her historic semifinal match against Park. Even for the first time, international media had given coverage prominently around the world on the controversial boxing match between Sarita and Park.
Some papers feel Sarita Devi was a “clear winner” in her lightweight (57-60kg) semifinal bout against South Korean Ji-Na Park on Wednesday.
The Indian Express says” “Sarita appears to be a clear winner in the bout… dominating the proceedings with such ferocity that Park barely managed to stand the assault. But much to the shock of the Indian contingent and the spectators, the judges awarded the bout to Park.”
A report on the Mint website says the controversial result has been “widely condemned as unfair and biased towards the host country.”
Sarita’s refusal to accept her bronze medal and her outburst of emotions on the podium dimmed the celebration of Mary Kom’s victory. But the Mint website adds that “it was a day of tears in the boxing arena at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. Some happy, some sad.”
The follow up developments have exposed a very shoddy affairs of the boxing officials from India as well as the officials from the Indian Olympic Association (IOA). I have agreed that a grave injustice was meted out to Sarita by the judges but it was a double whammy that no officials either from Indian Boxing or Indian Olympic came forward to formally lodge complaints forget about consoling her. It was simply unimaginable that Sarita had to borrow money from the Indian media persons for protest fees. But she as a player could not lodge any complaint whatsoever with the Judging Committee. Where were the officials be it Indian Boxing officials or Olympic Officials. Are they aware of the rules of the games that in the event of any controversial results given by judges, officials were the ones authorized to formally lodge complaints along with whatever protest fees prescribed as per the rules and regulation framed by that respective International Federations.
Although some including deputy general of Incheon’s organizing committee (IAGOC) say that Sarita’s refusal to accept her bronze medal on the podium went against the values of sportsmanship, no one at home takes it that way. Everyone in India appreciated her actions rather, though it happened with her unprecedented emotional outburst. But the mistake was not Park’s but the judges who should be suspended from judging any future boxing tournaments.
At the same time, the injustice meted out to Sarita tarnishes the beautiful image of the 17th Asian Games at Incheon. It also exposes shoddy attitudes of Indian Boxing officials as well as Indian Olympic officials.