Mary’s reaction to Nikhat’s letter & Bindra’s remark unbecoming of a champion, federation to blame for mess

Olympic bronze, eight World Championship medals, including six gold and numerous other titles on the international stage, MC Mary Kom’s CV is not just impressive but outright brutal. Her achievements are well chronicled and have been tucked safely within the annals of Indian history of sports. She is a living legend.

Mary’s latest outburst against young Nikhat Zareen, however, is surprising. It’s something not expected against youngsters who she should be mentoring, not dismissing. The controversy is unwarranted and avoidable, something that is threatening to tarnish her reputation. What Nikhat has done is within her rights because the Boxing Federation of India’s rules say so. The 23-year-old wants a ‘fair chance’ to prove herself in 51kg and represent the country at the Olympic qualifiers in China early next year and she has written a letter to Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju to intervene. Something that Mary felt was petty.

Perhaps her annoyance prompted her to say ‘who is Nikhat Zareen?’ and to rubbish Beijing Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra’s support for Nikhat. Knowing Mary, the words were not surprising. She gets excited and because she is a player, not a diplomat speaks what she feels — right from her heart, just like those punches she unleashes inside the ring. Her comments on Bindra, asking the shooting great to mind his own business and questioning his knowledge of boxing, were unnecessary. Legends are remembered for their magnanimity too.

Nikhat’s consternation is understandable too. She is 23 years old and in boxing parlance, at the right age to hit the zenith of her career. The next Olympics is five years away and by that time, Nikhat will be almost 28, close to retirement unless she transforms into a formidable boxer. She is a 51kg boxer and believes she can beat Mary. The BFI should be delighted. Instead, they want to tweak rules to favour an athlete. The enforcer of rules is now turning into their breaker. They could be setting a dangerous precedent.

Just for history’s sake, Mary kom has won gold in 2002 in pinweight (45kg). In 2005, 2006 and 2008, she won gold in 46kg. In 2010 and 2018, she won gold in 48kg to add to her 2001 silver in the same category. The women’s 51kg weight category was introduced in 2012 which is when Mary increased her weight. There is a difference in fighting in a higher weight category especially in a contact sport. Three kilograms give extra strength and that cutting edge — reach.  She won a bronze medal in 51kg at the London Olympics and at the World Championships this time. Mary had lost to Pinki Jangra in a trial before the 2014 Commonwealth Games in 51kg.

According to BFI rules (it’s listed on its website), in women’s, only those who have won gold and silver at worlds would qualify for Olympic qualifiers. She won bronze. Perhaps more than Mary, the federation should be blamed for the mess. The BFI lacks the tooth and zeal to rein in a superstar like Mary. Perhaps, the officials are scared to antagonise her. Just a couple of months ago, she did not give trials for the World Championships and the BFI helplessly agreed — something unheard of in sporting powerhouses of the world.  

The selection committee justified the decision saying her ‘performance’ has been exceptional and that she had beaten Nikhat earlier. Such tweaking of selection criteria to benefit a few doesn’t augur well for the federation and its top officials. Some federations like National Rifle Association of India has a very watertight selection procedure and despite his gold at the Beijing Olympics, Bindra had to prove himself at trials to represent the country innumerable times.

It’s time president Ajay Singh intervenes and gives the necessary direction to the BFI. And hold trials in the 51kg section.