October 18, 2019 / 11:12 AM / 24 days ago

Kom caught in Olympic qualification row in India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - MC Mary Kom has inspired many young boxers in India but one of the new generation feels the six-times world champion has received special treatment from the country’s federation over Olympic qualification and is fighting back.

FILE PHOTO: India's boxer MC Mary Kom punches a bag during a training session at Balewadi Stadium in Pune, about 190 km (118 miles) from Mumbai, March 12, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The 36-year-old Kom, an Olympic bronze medalist from London 2012, has been given an automatic spot in a qualifying competition for Tokyo 2020 by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI).

That decision has been criticized by 23-year-old fellow flyweight Nikhat Zareen, who says that Kom should have to go through trials.

The BFI initially announced that only the finalists of the recent world championships would be automatically selected for the Olympic qualifier in China early next year while others would have to earn a spot through trials.

Kom, however, was only a semi-finalist at the worlds in Russia earlier this month, eventually coming away with a bronze, her eighth medal in total at the championships.

Even Kom’s selection for the event in Russia was mired in controversy after the BFI exempted her from trials for those championships.

Zareen, whose hopes of competing at the Tokyo Olympics will be over if Kom qualifies in China, has written to sports minister Kiren Rijiju demanding his intervention. Kom has said she would follow BFI instructions.

“I have been inspired by Mary Kom since I was a teenager,” Zareen wrote in her letter to the minister.

“The best way I can do justice to this inspiration was to strive to be as great a boxer as her...

“I have been reliably informed that the rule is now being changed again to accommodate my senior Mary Kom as the Indian candidate without a trial.”

Her cause has received support from other athletes, including shooter Abhinav Bindra, India’s only individual Olympic gold medalist, who said Kom’s past achievements should not grant her favorable treatment.

“While I have all the respect for Mary Kom...In sport, yesterday NEVER counts,” Bindra tweeted.

BFI secretary general Jay Kowli, who was in Dubai, said he could not comment without consulting other officials while selection committee chief Rajesh Bhandari was not available to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Sports Minister Rijiju, however, has ruled out any intervention citing the BFI’s autonomy under the Olympic charter.

“I’ll surely convey to Boxing Federation to take the best decision keeping in mind the best interest of the nation, sports & athletes,” he tweeted on Friday.

Zareen thanked the minister and said she hoped for an end to “favoritism and nepotism”.

Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Toby Davis

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