Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Nikhat to represent India at the 2023 Asian Games, confirms Dunne

Bernard Dunne.

Bernard Dunne.
| Photo Credit: ANI

Nikhat Zareen will represent India at the 2023 Asian Games, the first qualification event for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Bernard Dunne, who was last year appointed high performance director for the Indian boxing teams, confirmed this at a press conference here at the IBA Boxing World Championships.

Nikhat, the Commonwealth Games Champion in the 50kg category, earned the right to compete at the Asian Games by virtue of reaching the final of the World Championships in the light flyweight category after beating Rio bronze medallist Ingrid Valencia in the semifinals. Selection for the Asian Games, would give competitors a first shot at qualifying for the Paris Olympics. According to the International Olympic committee’s qualification criteria for boxing at the 2024 Olympics, the top four finishers in the women’s 50kg category at the Hangzhou Asian Games, scheduled to be held in September, will qualify for the Paris Olympics.

The selection policy posted on the Boxing Federation of India website, states “…The athlete who medal (Gold/Silver) at the World Championship 2023 will have an automatic selection for the Asian games 2023 (first Olympic qualifier) in that particular weight category”.

“Those who have won gold or silver here (the world championships) in an Olympic weight category are the automatic selection for the Asian Games. We have no plans to change the selection policy right now,” Dunne stated on Saturday. Dunne’s statement also meant that Lovlina Borgohain, who reached the final of the 75kg middleweight category, will be India’s representative at the Asian Games.

Dunne made the statement with regard to a query whether selection trials might be held for the women’s 50kg weight category ahead of the Asian Games. While Nikhat had seemingly laid claim to the spot in marquee light flyweight Olympic category in the Indian roster having won gold in the 52kg category at the 2022 World Championships and the 50kg category at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, the possibility of selection trials had come up owing to the meteoric rise of Nitu Ghanghas over the last year.

Competing in the minimum-weight category (48kg), two time world youth champion Nitu had won gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The 22-year-old had also reached the final of the 2023 World Championships, stopping three opponents and beating 2022 World silver medallist Alua Balkibekova in the semifinals.

Dunne said that while Nikhat was the automatic pick for the Asian Games, there was still a possibility for Nitu. “Anything could happen. God forbid someone could pick up an injury or break a hand or leg. At that time our number 2 and 3 boxers have to be ready. If you are called upon, you need to be ready. Nikhat is the first pick but Nitu could compete for that No. 2,” Dunne said.

For that though Nitu would have to move up a weight category. It’s not certain whether that is something she would do just yet. “After the World Championships, some of the boxers will change and some will not. We have already had this conversation with the boxers,” Dunne said.

Dunne further reiterated that team selection would not be made on the basis of selection trials but rather on the basis of constant evaluation on performance inside the national camp. The policy which he had initiated in the Indian boxing team since he took over has had its share of controversy with four boxers even approaching the courts after they were not picked for the World Championships.

“When we conduct selection trials, we are letting judges determine who the best boxer is after three rounds of three minutes each. God forbid an athlete fall sick ahead of the trials. The system we have right now empowers the coaches who see the boxers day in and day out. It allows those who best know the athletes to make a decision regarding selection,” he said.

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