Mary Kom won bronze at the AIBA World Championships in Ulan Ude, Russia, having been picked for the team without a selection trial. (Image credit: AIBA Boxing)
It seems MC Mary Kom, part time Member of Parliament, and full time legend of Indian boxing, has some issues with her back.
In case you can’t navigate the double innuendo, we are talking about the lack of spine shown by the Rajya Sabha member during the debate and voting on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), where she pressed ‘yea’ in favour of passing of the controversial and discriminating piece of legislature. The CAB is now the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and Mary Kom’s North East, along with the rest of the country burns in protest as we speak. The government is using all its might to quell voice and movements of dissent against an Act that goes vehemently against the founding ethos of the Indian constitution.
And yes, we are also talking about her lack of spine (termed by her coaching staff as back injury/spasm) to take on a young challenger to earn the right to represent India in the boxing qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics. Nikhat Zareen, from Hyderabad, has been chasing Mary Kom for a while now, just to touch gloves with her, just for a chance to prove her mettle and, if good enough, replace Mary, a six time world champion and an Olympic medallist as India’s representative on the world stage. But Mary’s back has given out.
Mary Kom is now in the category of athlete diplomatically labelled “veterans”, and so when she or her coaches mention injury, one should give them the benefit of the doubt. But, the context of this injury, which surfaced a day before a much anticipated showdown against the upstart Zareen in the Boxing Federation of India-sanctioned Big Bout League in New Delhi makes us wonder if the boxer from Manipur has indeed gotten too comfortable not standing up when it is needed.
She decided not to stand up for what is right, as a parliamentarian, a few days back; while, she has been showing reluctance to stand up and go toe-to-toe in the ring, as a boxer, specifically against young and upcoming challengers with potential.
Mary, the reluctant parliamentarian first. Her words, in an interview to ABP news just before the debate and voting in the Rajya Sabha, are enough to make a watertight case.
“It’s a very important Bill,” she said. “If the request has come from the Minister or the government, I should be in the House only. I know, the Bill is going to be passed. It’s not in my hands of course and my opinion here does not matter. If the government is supporting and everyone is supporting then I will also support it.”
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Mary then went on to justify her course of action, hiding behind her mission for gold at the Tokyo Olympics. It is highly ironic that she is reluctant to fight and earn, fair and square, that spot to seal her dream.
“I am not a politician. If the Government has taken a decision then even if I request them to withdraw CAB. It’s not going to be withdrawn. At this stage, it’s not going to stop. If the decision is already taken, then I will just follow that. If you insist on what do I want, then I will say I just want to win Olympic gold in Tokyo for my country.”
Which brings us back to the ring.
Mary Kom, Indian boxing’s flagbearer the last decade or so, has enough clout in the national federation and the system to ensure she becomes the first choice to represent the country in whatever weight category she chooses. Now, the boxer still packs a punch, as shown by her recent medal-winning run at the world championships. But her unchallenged status in the national team also has to do with her ability to dodge opponents without even getting in the ring.
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Former junior world champion Zareen is the latest among talented boxers who never received a chance to prove their worth. While the Mary vs Zareen saga is for the Tokyo Olympics, the months ahead of the 2016 Games in Rio, saw Mary Kom outfox another talented young challenger — Pinki Rani Jangra.
In 2014, incidentally the year when Mary Kom’s Bollywood biopic was released, Jangra beat her in the Commonwealth Games trials. A year later, it was Mary Kom and not Jangra, who represented India in the various qualifying tournaments for the Rio Olympics. She failed to qualify. Whether Jangra, or any other boxer in her weight class, might have done better, we will never know.
With the qualifiers for boxing at the Tokyo Olympics set to begin in February 2020, it’s dodgeball season once again. Zareen has the ball, but Mary Kom is proving an elusive target.
The fall from grace of Mary Kom, the boxer, has been on the cards for a while now, ever since she traded the gloves for politics in the national team setup. While she maintains, in parliament, that she is not a politician, the maneuvers she has executed in boxing circles indicate otherwise.
Then again, when all of India is in the eye of a major storm, is it really surprising that one of her most celebrated sporting icons, co-opted by the state and the government of the day, would refuse to take a stand? Not really. For how would that fit in with the project of creating new heroes for a New India?
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