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Asian Games: Minefield of a draw for world champion Nikhat Zareen

World champion Nikhat Zareen will have to fight her toughest competitor Thi Tam Nguyen of Vietnam in the first round of the Asian Games on Sunday. Two more Indian boxers Parveen Hooda (57kg) and Arundhati Chaudhary (66kg) have run into strong Chinese opponents first up.

Nikhat Zareen beat Patricia Alvarez 5-0 to seal the quarter-finals spot in the 50kg weight category of the Women’s Boxing World Championships on Tuesday(Boxing Federation of India)

Blame it on the draw made by the Boxing Task Force (BTF) that did not take into account the world rankings and therefore no seedings were awarded. As luck would have it, Indian boxers find themselves at the receiving end of some very tough draws in Hangzhou.

This, being a qualification tournament for the Paris Olympics, it was surprising that recent performances of the boxers were not considered for the draws. It has led to highly mismatched fights where several top boxers are pitted against each other in the initial rounds.

In Nikhat’s weight class, 14 of the 18 boxers, including Bangladesh’s Zinnat Ferdous and Nepal’s Susma Tamang, were given first round byes. It defies logic how a two-time world champion — Nikhat — was not one of them. Her road to Paris and a maiden gold medal will not be easy.

The Asian Games offer 20 Olympic quotas in six women’s weight category and two each in seven weight class for men’s. The Indian team is expecting the women’s squad to give their best performance in terms of medals and quota places with Nikhat and Olympic medallist Lovlina Borgohain (75) brining some star quality into play.

But their task has become difficult thanks to the draws they have got.

On Sunday, Preeti Saipawar will also open against Jordan’s Silna Alhasanat. If she wins, she will face Kazakhstan’s Zhaina Shekerbekova, the three-time world championships medallist, in the second round.

Two other Indian girls have also drawn up formidable opponents. Arundhati Choudhary (66kg) faces world champion Chinese Liu Yang in the first round and Parveen Hooda (57kg) will have to beat seasoned Chinese Xu Zichun in the prelims to progress.

A IBA technical official said it was “surprising” that no seedings were given at the Asian Games which is an Olympic qualification tournament. The official also said the boxing taskforce did not want to take the IBA rankings for the draws as they do not recognise the world body anymore.

“It is very unfair on the boxers that the draws were made without seedings. The boxers who are world champions, who have achieved so much in the lead up to the qualifiers, should have got seedings,” the official said.

It was also surprising that Indian boxing contingent did not raise the issue with the taskforce. “Why did not the Indian management raise it when the draw was discussed before it was formalised.”

A coach also agreed that Indian boxing team needed to take a stand. “Before the draw is made, the team is informed of the rules and regulations. The coaches present in the meeting should have objected,” said the coach.

The boxing competition in Hangzhou is being organised by a taskforce of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), with the International Boxing Association (IBA) recently derecognising by the IOC. Due to the standoff between the IOC and the IBA there was a long delay in announcement of qualification system for the Paris Olympics, leading to confusion and uncertainty among the boxers.

The refereeing and judging scandals and the scathing report of Richard Mclaren on boxing integrity issues meant that the boxing taskforce has put in place its own processes to select technical delegates and not rely on IBA world rankings to make draws.

Nikhat has to tackle top rivals early

Nikhat will have to be on her toes from the start and display a lot grit just as she had at the world championships earlier this year. She will have to fight three bouts to qualify for Paris Olympics and a total of five to win the gold medal.

On Sunday, Nikhat will start from where she left off at the world championships final at home when she beat Nguyen Thi Tam in what she called the ‘toughest’ of six bouts during the tournament.

Nguyen had then bounced back in the second round, after losing the first to Nikhat, taking the title finale to decisive and final third round. The two boxers had exchanged strong blows in the third round but Nikhat managed to get the better of her to win her second world title.

If Nikhat progresses to the semi-final, she might be up against Thailand’a Raksat Chuthamat, the two-time world championships medallist, who troubled the Indian at home.

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