In a high-stakes battle for the Boxing Federation of India’s (BFI) president’s post, former BJP-Sena-led Maharashtra government’s sports, education and social welfare minister and the Mumbai Cricket Association’s (MCA) ex-president, Ashish Shelar, has thrown his hat in the ring to contest against the incumbent Ajay Singh, who is co-founder and owner of SpiceJet airlines, in the federation’s December 18 elections.
While Shelar’s association with the BJP is well-established, Singh’s cordial relations with several top BJP leaders is no secret as well.
As has always been seen during election time, allegations of manipulation, misappropriation of funds and irregularities come up for electoral gains – sometimes genuine, but largely motivated. The rival faction, led by some of the BFI’s member state associations, primarily Maharashtra, has accused the current dispensation of manipulation during the second edition of the India Open boxing tournament, which was hosted by the Assam government in Guwahati from May 20 to 24, 2019.
The heart of the entire controversy is Rs 1 crore financial grant from the government, which the BFI received as part of its efforts to organise an international-level sports competition in the state, and the non-participation of the 14-member Uzbekistan boxing contingent.
The accusation levelled is that nine teams participated, which would make the India Open organisers ineligible for Rs 1 crore grant as the hosts (as the 10th team) can’t be counted among them. The other accusation was that Uzbek boxers didn’t come, but one woman boxer in the 69kg weight category was shown as the bronze medal winner.
Strangely, the rival faction has filed an FIR against the Assam Amateur Boxing Association (AABA) — almost two years after the tournament was held — and written to the IOC, AIBA and Asian Confederation’s (ASBC) Ethics Commission.
BFI strongly refuted the allegations.
According to them, 10 teams participated, including India – the other being Philippines, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, Argentina, Turkmenistan, Mauritius, Italy and Poland. According to the Assam government’s rules, to be eligible for Rs 1 crore grant, “there has to be a participation of 10 or more countries with a minimum of 100 players”.
“There were 10 countries, including India, so where is the controversy?” asked BFI.
On the allegation that an Uzbek boxer was awarded a medal despite not taking part, BFI clarified: “The draw was already made and Uzbekistan pulled out at the last minute. In the women’s 69kg, four boxers were in the draw. It meant they would play straight in the semi-finals. As per the boxing rules, four players (winner, runners-up and the two losers) always receive medals. The system generated awards’ list had shown these four names in the medallist chart by default when the list was printed. But when it came to the notice of the technical officials, it was ensured that no medals were given.”
As per the mails and communication provided by the BFI to TOI, the Uzbek contingent’s visas had been processed well in advance and they had confirmed their participation in the event, with the BFI officials inquiring about their no-show till the last minute of the tournament start.
When asked for comments, Singh wasn’t amused with the timing of the allegation.
“Why it has always been seen that whenever there are elections around, these kinds of allegations start doing the rounds. I have no vested interest and I am not here to play politics. Some people will always have issues but my focus is entirely on boxing,” he said.