Mumbai: Indian boxing's pin-up boy Vijender Singh drags himself to the ring in Patiala each day, sweats out mechanically and leaves wondering if it was all worth the trouble. Singh's frustration reflects the mood of the athletes in a country that has been kicked out of the Olympic family for allowing government interference in the functioning of its controversial Olympic committee.
To make matters worse for local boxers, the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation has separately been suspended by the sport's international governing body (AIBA) for "possible manipulation" in its September elections. "It's very frustrating," Singh told Reuters by telephone.
"We can't go to any camps, can't compete in any competitions but still train day in and day out to stay in shape. "We ask ourselves every day 'Why are we training? What's the use of it when we are banned?' The urge to train harder will come only when we can see a ray of hope."
Singh's middleweight bronze in the 2008 Beijing Games helped raise boxing's profile in India, which otherwise remains obsessed with cricket. "It [ban] shouldn't have happened. It is not good for Indian sports and Indian boxing. Whatever needs to be done should be done and this ban should be lifted as soon as possible."
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) due to government interference in its December 5 elections, which also saw a tainted official being elected to a key post.
Lalit Bhanot, who spent 11 months in custody following corruption charges that swirled around the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, was elected unopposed as the secretary-general despite the IOC declaring the elections "null and void".
While the athletes may still compete under the IOC flag, the prospect does not excite discus thrower Krishna Poonia. "It is obviously a matter of concern. Till this crisis is solved, there will always be concerns surrounding our participation in competitions and that too under some other flag," the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist told Reuters. "It's very confusing for us. We hope we won't suffer like the boxers."
THE WAY OUT
Bhanot and his IOA colleagues continue to defy the IOC and there appears no immediate solution either, something shooter Joydeep Karmakar finds exasperating. "The way out is pretty simple and basic - follow the Olympic Charter," he said by phone.
India should take the opportunity to weed out vested interests from sports administration, said Karmakar, who narrowly missed out on a bronze in men's 50m rifle prone at the London Olympics.
Singh echoed Karmakar's views and urged administrators to put national interest above anything else. "I think the whole of India should be involved in solving this crisis. It's a loss for India and every Indian citizen," the 27-year-old boxer said. "If the officials are doing this for their personal gain, they are betraying the country."
IOC member Randhir Singh acknowledged the athletes were suffering for no fault of their own. "You have to go by the IOC rules. If it carries on like this any further, it's possible that the Indian athletes will not be allowed to participate anywhere," he told Reuters.
"Who will suffer in the end? Obviously the Indian athletes and that too just because of the whims and fancies of a few."