Is it foolish to dream of purity in sport?

The name Vijaya Nadar did not ring a bell and since her e-mail subject line said ‘Hello’, I instinctively wanted to delete the mail, thinking it was another spam mail. But my curiosity was aroused when I noticed that the author had obviously had only clicked on the Reply All option in one of her own mails, edited the subject and sent a whole lot of people an anguished note.

A freelance journalist, she wrote about an incident in the Federation Cup being held at Jangaon, not far from Hyderabad, from April 24 to April 28. She said that a quarterfinal bout in the 81kg class had been rigged to favour Andhra Pradesh boxer B Srinivas aka Raju against Commonwealth Youth Games silver medallist Satender Kumar (Railways) since the home boxer is the son of AP Boxing Association. Joint Secretary Mr. Bal Raj.

Even though she was not an eye-witness, she had found out and described in graphic detail how the bout had been rigged. She suggested that the judges turned a blind eye to the punches that Satender landed and lights were switched off when a knockout seemed imminent in the second round. And when the home boxer landed one punch in the third round, the buzzer signalled the end of the bout, even though only one minute had passed.

Her mail also claimed Mr. Bal Raj had announced before the start of the bout that he had organised the tournament for his son’s benefit and that he had already spent Rs 10 lakh.

Interestingly, Indian Boxing Federation’s Secretary-General Col PK Muralidhar Raja was quick to conduct a preliminary inquiry and sent a reply to everyone Vijaya had mailed. He said that the boxers punches were not clear or hard enough for the judges to award them points in the first two rounds of the bout and in the third round, Srinivas landed one clear punch which was accepted by the judges as a legitimate blow and he received the point.

He said he had spoken to the Jury Members as well as the Railways team manager Ajit Chaudhary and coach Lalit Prasad. All of them told him that the bout was close and that Satender Kumar lost because he did not play his usual game. Col Raja said the Railway coach had told him that Satender was swinging wildly as he was wanting to knock his opponent out but did not connect his punches.

The IBF Secretary-General quoted the Railway coach and said Satender was cautioned by the Referee for landing foul blows. He said the coach also clarified that there was power failure during other bouts as well. And he said the Jury Members and Railways coach had told him that there was nothing wrong in the duration of rounds. Col. Raja also pointed out that Srinivas won his semifinal against Virender Singh (Punjab) on points 5:1.

That is the official position – and we shall accept that, even if we do not agree with it. In my younger days when I played basketball, I saw some forms of bribery and manipulation to back the theory that this quarterfinal bout could have been rigged to favour the home boxer. And in my days as a journalist, I have become more aware of such possibilities.

Vijaya’s effort reminded me of Andrew Jennings’s campaign against corruption in the International Olympic Committee, including one of its members answering to the name of Anwar Chowdhry. The long-serving International Amateur Boxing Association President was accused of being one of the most corrupt sports officials.

Long after Chowdhry was unseated, no less a person than AIBA Secretary-General Caner Doganeli said the Pakistani’s manipulations during his tenure as AIBA chief helped his country win laurels and cited its dismal performance in the Doha Asian Games in 2006 to bolster his claims of corruption.

The scandals surfaced from the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul when a Pakistan boxer, Hussain Ali Shah, became the first from his country to win an Olympic medal. Jennings wrote of how some fights in every World Championship and Olympic Games were rigged so that officials could go back home and speak of how their boxers achieved succeess.

In 2004, Chowdhry was openly accused by a coach from Thailand of switching scores in a pre-Olympic event in Karachi to favour a home boxer. Why, our own Jitender Kumar was said to have expressed doubts about his quaterfinal bout with Nauman Karim in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha if Chowdhry were present in the arena as Asian Amateur Boxing Federation President.

Sport – and I mean all sport – needs to retain its purity at all levels if we are to draw the young to pursue it as a career. We must encourage our young to showcase their own strengths and allow them to discover their own shortcomings, goad them to work on the limitations and watch them conquer new frontiers. Is it vain and foolish to dream such a dream?

4 comments for “Is it foolish to dream of purity in sport?

  1. Tarun Bhardwaj
    April 29, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    This is true sir that rigging, bribery and manipulation does happen in sport. I, as a child, have seen one Cricket Coach in my home town Bharatpur, which is otherwise a sleepy, dust and lazy town in east Rajasthan, making all the aspiring kids bowl to his son all the time and thereby denying them any batting practise…it was for the age group of 7-12… not even grass root level but at germinating level… no wonder this thing is happening at higher level as well…

  2. Vijaylakshmi Nadar
    April 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Hi Raj,
    Thanks for not deleting my mail:), reading through it and finding it sincere enough to mention it in your web-site.
    I would also be obliged if you could publish excerpts of my reply to Colonel Raja’s comments, because often a reply belittles the original report and a rejoinder helps it to put it in proper perspective. I am aware of Colonel Rajs’s efforts to give boxing its due, but I also feel that like most bosses, he hates to see the muck in his own backyard and would prefer to keep it awqy from the prying eyes of the media. It indeed takes a man of steel to first of all acknowledge any such rigging and then setting it right, instead of giving officials (in this case that of railways)a chance to hide their crimes behind a flat denial, more shameful in this case because it was witnessed by more than 200 people present there.
    Anyways hope the message reaches out to more and more people who cry hoarse in favour of purity in sport. In my experience, most of the sportspersons, especially in disciplines like wrestling, weight lifting and boxing, truly work their guts out in pursuit of glory, which would ensure them a secure job in either the army, railways or the police. Most of them have not even finished their schooling and have no long term vision. All they are focussed on is getting a job, in the process many a talent is compromised if not assured of proper backing at the right time. They are reduced to being mere pawns, threatened and bullied to pay obeisance to the higher ups in the respective federations. With competition being stiff at the higher levels, they become more and more vulnerable to the threats of coaches and other governing officials, forcing them to keep shut, even when they are aware of the mis-givings around them. An effort should be made by the media too to unveil them, rather than sitting in their cushy offices and simply publishing tid-bits from the press releases e-mailed to them.

  3. Anita Lobo
    May 3, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Saw a similar thought in this story today:
    Sport selling its soul to big market players. Super story by Simon Barnes/ Times Online

  4. puli
    September 18, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Very true fact….Srinivas is a good south paw boxer but that bout was fakely won…..not only tht…I hav heard tht similar thing happened in d finals of fed cup as well…Srinivas is now workin with south central railways happily…his father, also known as boxer pandaya(my spelling could be wrong)has put a black patch in the face of AP boxing…just to get a railways job for his son? I know much much better boxers in AP who are struggling very hard without any result…these days connection is all…last year Srinivas directly went to Sr nationals without participating in state championship!and lost in 1st round!and the man who played all the bouts in state and got the gold medal lost his chance!Shame AP boxing!

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