Vijender Singh will contest for Congress from the South Delhi constituency in the Lok Sabha elections, against Raghav Chadha of the AAP and BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri.
In 2015, when Vijender Singh was making his pro boxing debut, his then trainer, Lee Beard, mentioned something which, with the hindsight provided by his entry into electoral politics in 2019 as Congress’ Lok Sabha Candidate for South Delhi, perfectly describes the life and career choices of the former Olympic medallist. Beard’s words, in fact, remove the surprise or shock factor in the boxer’s entry into the Lok Sabha fray.
“Vijender has always been a smart boxer and has kept himself free of damage and injuries over the years,” Beard had said.
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Smart... One would add some more adjectives to go with it, especially after hearing Vijender talk while announcing his candidature, about his dream to emulate Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao. Noble dreams indeed; but we hope the former national champion understands that Pacquiao, even before becoming an MP, was a figure working for social upliftment and change in that country. Or at least the Pacquiao version of it. An opportunistic go-getter he is not.
At this point a look at Vijender’s life, beyond his Olympic medal and his promotion company-driven hype, would reveal the boxer’s lack of clear judgement while making decisions-landing him in one soup after another. Yet, for all the press about these situations, Vijender always emerged unscathed. Such a revisit would give us not just a full perspective on the newbie politician, but also a bleak picture of the rather arbitrary way the political parties have been dishing out seats this election season.
Vijender’s high point in boxing came in 2008, when he won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. Catapulted to stardom, with endorsements and television commitments to match the stature of a sporting success-starved country’s Olympic hero. The plot started to unravel soon enough.
Over the next few years his performance dipped dramatically. But, the combination of an Olympic medal in the bag and the gift of the gab meant the country was expecting a repeat at London 2012. After an underwhelming show there, and with younger boxers breathing down his neck at the national camps (only one boxer can represent a country in each weight at major competitions), Vijender’s days in amateur boxing, where essentially he was a dependent of the state, were numbered.
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Then came the drug scandal which gave us a peek at the dark and murky (it remains so) side of Vijender’s life.
In March 2013, during a raid conducted on alleged drug dealer Anoop Singh Kahlon alias Ruby’s house near Chandigarh, Punjab Police seized 26 kilograms of heroin and other drugs, valued at around ₹130 crore. They recovered a car registered in the name of Vijender's wife from the house. Police sources were quoted in the media at the time saying they possessed evidence that the boxer was in regular touch with the Canadian Kahlon since August 2012.
Punjab police sources were quoted by media, alleging that the boxer's links with drugs ran deeper than having tried heroin for fun, and that they possessed call records to prove that.
Vijender, then, denied the allegations and refused to give his hair and blood samples for testing. NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) refused to test Vijender claiming protocol did not allow it. But, the Sports Ministry, in order to avoid controversy, directed NADA to conduct the test. By May of that year, NADA gave Vijender a clean chit, even while a lot of to-and-fro drama played out with Punjab Police alleging Haryana Police — with whom Vijender was a DSP — was not helping in the investigations.
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Things died down soon enough, and Vijender was ready to compete again. But boxing had moved on, and being smart, he realised it. Running the risk of not making the Olympic team for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Vijender decided to take the pro boxing plunge. Since then, he has fought 10 bouts, and remained unbeaten.
The unbeaten run should be taken with a pinch of salt. Vijender was fighting weak opponents (he never fought anyone ranked above him) and won’t get a fight against a boxer worth his salt — forget elite pros — because he's just not good enough, and there is no “boxing” market in India that could generate enough revenue for anyone to even consider it from that angle.
In December 2017, when he last fought, he retained the WBO Asia Pacific and WBO Oriental Super Middleweight titles by beating Ernest Amuzu of Ghana. Since he has not defended his title for more than a year now, and WBO, at some point will force him to vacate those.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019 and there is some deja vu. Vijender — a revisit of 2015 perhaps — when his career was almost hitting a wall. But the “smart” boxer managed to duck and turn away from the knockout blow at the last moment possible. His prize this time is a professional debut in politics.
Vijender, or for that matter, Gautam Gambhir, the other sportsperson in the fray in Delhi state (albeit in the BJP ranks with the seat possibly coming as reward for towing the party’s line of hyper nationalism on social media and beyond), have so far not done anything beyond their own sporting careers.
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Fair enough, many would argue, for as sportspersons they did what they were mandated and supposed to do — play or fight and win. Vijender won a bronze for India at the Olympic Games in 2008, while Gambhir was in the team which won the ICC World Cup in 2011, playing a match-winning knock in the final. The joy those victories provided for the people in the country, and the few PR or sponsor-driven social causes they might have taken up over the course, would be the closest the duo have come to serving the people.
Delhi might want to keep that in mind when they exercise their franchise on May 12.
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