Can India become a global boxing superpower? Anish Parekh asks
The Commonwealth Games Boxing Finals, NEC, Birmingham – Glancing to my left I saw my dad – an Indian emigrant – stood on his feet, with delight etched on his face, and his chest filled with pride as he heard the Indian national anthem blaring from the speakers. India had just won their second boxing gold medal of the day.
At the conclusion of the boxing competition, India had won three golds and seven medals in total, as they were only pipped to the top of the boxing standings by a wonderfully talented Northern Ireland team.
It made me wonder, could we see the emergence of India as a global boxing superpower – not just in the amateurs, but in the professional ranks too?
India have had notable amateur talent in the past, such as Mary Kom and Vijender Singh, but the consistent quality of their fighters in these Games are evidence that the Indian Boxing Federation are doing something right and the success of their fighters can inspire a new generation and capture the imagination of their vast population in a way that only cricket has done.
Nitu Ghangas, Amit Panghal and Nikhat Zareen all oozed class enroute to claiming gold medals, defeating quality and determined opponents by controlling the distance, utilising a snappy jab, and following up with more hurtful shots when the opportunity arose. Whenever their adversaries would attempt to increase the tempo, the Indians managed to remain calm under pressure, stymy the attacks and regain the momentum to confirm their superiority in the round and silence the partisan crowd roaring on the home nation fighters. It was a demonstration of elite will and skill that the Indian public would have revelled in.
With India in the midst of a boxing boom, now is the time for promoters and sponsors to capitalise and develop big time opportunities for these boxers in the professional ranks.
Whilst the gold medallists will be rightfully lauded, it is the rise of 20-year old super-heavyweight silver medallist, Sagar Ahlawat, who has the potential to transcend the sport. Competing in his first international event, he impressed throughout the tournament and gave hometown favourite Delicious Orie a fright in the final by winning the first round. Heavyweights move the needle and in Sagar, India have got one that can be built into a superstar for many years to come.
With a population of 1 billion people, it's easy to envision large stadiums such as the Narendra Modi Stadium being packed to its 132,000 capacity of vociferously patriotic Indians creating a deafening din in support of their heroes, urging them on to victory. Add to that millions of Indians, and those with indian heritage around the globe, that would watch in anticipation on television – such potential for viewing figures would be a promoter's dream.
Much promotion is invested into cricket, a sport that in recent years has been marred with accusations of elitism and nepotism. However, boxing can perfectly resonate and offer an opportunity to a country still suffering from great economic inequality, whereby many people retain a fight-to-survive mentality – a common trait amongst some of the greatest practitioners in boxing's rich and colourful history, who have managed to fight their way to prosperity.
The 2012 Olympics served as a springboard for British interest in boxing due to the success of Anthony Joshua, Luke Campbell, and Nicola Adams. India must take heed from that and reward their fighters with a larger platform and the financial privileges that allow them to shine on the world stage and inspire their compatriots – particularly the impoverished youth – to continue displaying their fighting spirit in hopes of completing their own rags to riches story.