Nikhat Zareen and Lovlina Borgohain will be at the forefront as India eye a show befitting their growing stature in women’s boxing when the World Championship, whose build-up was marred by controversies, begins here from Thursday.
In the absence of the iconic six-time champion MC Mary Kom, who is recovering from an ACL tear in her left knee, world champion Nikhat and Olympic bronze medallist Lovlina will spearhead the 12-member Indian team.
Both boxers will look to find their footing in new weight categories with the Paris Olympics approaching.
World No. 4 Nikhat cut down her weight from 52kg — the weight category in which she found glory last year in Turkey — to 50kg.
Lovlina, on the other hand, has bulked up from the 69kg welterweight class to the 75kg middleweight division after both their preferred weight categories were scrapped for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
This will be Nikhat’s second international tournament after dropping down to 50kg. She won the Commonwealth Games gold in the light fly weight division, but the field wasn’t that strong in Birmingham.
However, that will not be the case here. Being an Olympic weight category, Nikhat will have to face some of the top boxers on her way to the podium.
Although Lovlina won the Asian Championships in the 75kg division, she is still adapting to her new weight class. The two-time Worlds bronze medallist has been working extensively on increasing her strength and adding power to her punches, a must for succeeding in the higher weight classes.
“The focus has been on improving the power in my punches as my opponents will be much stronger than what I encountered in the 69kg category,” Lovlina told PTI.
The spotlight will also be on CWG champion Nitu Ganghas (48kg) and last edition’s bronze medallist Manisha Maun (57kg).
The likes of Sakshi Chaudhary (52kg), Preeti (54kg), Shashi Chopra (63kg), Sanamcha Chanu (70kg) are expected to create a flutter.
It is the third time India is hosting the prestigious event. But a series of boycotts, the conflict between the International Boxing Association (IBA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and a court case have taken the sheen off the tournament.
Over 10 countries, including the likes of USA, Britain and Ireland pulled out of the event after the IBA, headed by Russian Umar Kremlev, allowed boxers from Russia and Belarus to compete under their own flag against the IOC’s recommendation.
Additionally, the ongoing tussle between the two world bodies has created a lot of confusion as the IOC said it would be in charge of the 2024 Paris Olympics qualifiers and not the IBA, which has be under suspension since 2019.
But the IBA went on and announced that they would conduct the qualification events, and the men’s and women’s World Championships this year would be the main qualifiers.
Kremlev on Tuesday clarified that the IOC will remain in charge of the qualifying events adding that the two bodies need to cooperate and coordinate. He, however, asserted that that all the qualification tournaments shall be managed by IBA.
Another dispute arose within the national camp as reigning national champions Manju Rani (48kg), Shiksha Narwal (54kg) and Poonam Poonia (60kg) moved court after they couldn’t make the cut for the World Championships under Boxing Federation of India’s new selection policy.
Under the new policy the boxers underwent an evaluation process for three weeks where they were judged on various parameters with Nitu, Preeti and Jaismine Lamboria being selected for the tournament.
The Delhi High Court eventually refused to interfere in the issue.
The 13th edition of the championship will feature over 300 boxers from 65 countries and the gold-winners will walk away with a prize money of USD 100,000.
The silver medallists are to be given USD 50,000, and both bronze-medallists will be awarded USD 25,000 each.
India returned with a haul of three medals including a gold in the last edition.
The Indian team would hope to match its 2006 performance at home, when the boxers won eight medals, including four golds.
Squad: Nitu Ghanghas (48kg), Nikhat Zareen (50kg), Sakshi Chaudhary (52kg), Preeti (54kg), Manisha Moun (57kg), Jaismine Lamboria (60kg), Shashi Chopra (63kg), Manju Bamboria (66kg), Sanamcha Chanu (70kg), Lovlina Borgohain (75kg), Saweety Boora (81kg) and Nupur Sheoran (81+kg).
By Aparajita Upadhyay