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India's poor Boxing their way to international success
India's poor boxing their way to international success
Boxing is India’s exceptional sport, as the country continues to win dozens of medals at international competitions. The small country town of Bhiwani is home to four out of the five boxers who travelled to Beijing in 2008.
Thursday, July 5th 2012, 06:33 PM
India's poor boxing their way to a dream
On the fringes of the vast Thar desert lies the small country town of Bhiwani. Down a dusty lane in a half-built residential area is the town's boxing club, the powerhouse behind an extraordinary story of Indian sporting success.
India is a perpetual underachiever in the Olympics. Despite 1.2 billion inhabitants, the emerging economic power's medal haul has been derisory: a total of 20 since it first participated in the modern Games in 1900. It won a gold, a silver and a bronze in 2008, and a single silver in 2004. China, its regional rival, with a population that is only slightly larger, won 51 golds four years ago.
The reasons, experts say, are manifold: a limited culture of sport beyond cricket and hockey, corruption that wastes even limited funds from the government, little commercial sponsorship, poor facilities, at least a third of the population malnourished and few effective coaches.
Boxing is the exception. Indian boxers have won dozens of medals in international competitions in recent years. A team of seven men and one woman are going to London, including Vijender Singh, who won a bronze in Beijing. "This time I am aiming for the gold," Singh said. "At Beijing, India won three medals. This time, hopefully, we will win more. There's so much support for us in London. It's almost like mini-India."
The 26-year-old, in the last weeks of preparation for the Games at the national boxing training center about 300 miles away, comes from the small village of Kaluwas, a few miles outside Bhiwani in the state of Haryana. In all, four of the five boxers who travelled to Beijing in 2008 and two of those travelling to London come from here.
Other than boxing, there is nothing exceptional about Bhiwani or Kaluwas. They are rural communities like hundreds of thousands of others across India. Bullocks with broad, curved horns seek shade as temperatures top 40C. Primary modes of transport locally are rickety buses, bicycles or feet. The main fuel, for the many who cannot afford gas, is dried cattle dung. By tradition and by necessity, few local people eat meat. Singh's father, a municipal bus driver, said his son was lucky as a child because he got milk from the family's cows for protein. Many others go without. Though the area has seen much economic growth in recent years, deep poverty remains.
Every evening 100 or more young men and women gather at the Bhiwani boxing club to skip rope, spar and work out on a dozen battered bags. The standard is varied, from beginner to journeyman contender. One boxer has won 10 state-level medals, another was recently victorious nationally. All cite one reason for boxing beyond the pleasure of sport: to earn a living.
"All those who come here are lower middle class, or even laborers," said Jagdish Singh, the 50-year-old coach who founded the center in 2003. "They love the sport, of course, but it's a way to a better life. The London Olympics are very important for Indian boxing. We've been progressing really well since Beijing. If we do this well, the government will pay good attention to us and give us better facilities."
Many boxers live in a hostel near the gym and train for two to three hours every dawn and dusk, when temperatures are low enough to allow exercise. Accommodation costs almost nothing, but food is a problem. "Cash is always tight. We are always cutting corners," said 18-year-old Naveen Balhara.
The first way boxers can earn money is through prizes. Balhara won 25,000 rupees (£300) when he came second in the national championship last year. He spent most of it on multivitamin tablets, almonds and fresh fruit.
"I am boxing for glory, yes, but not just glory," said Balhara. For there is also the possibility of winning a coveted government job. The only employment with genuine security in India lies in sprawling agencies such as the railways, army and police.
One reason for the success of boxing in Bhiwani is the deliberate policy of the local state government to reserve 3% of jobs for sportsmen and women. The posts reserved are better paid and more prestigious than elsewhere too. So Vijender Singh, who is travelling to London, is officially a deputy superintendent of police, drawing a wage and entitled to housing as well as other benefits.
Finally, in this conservative region where the systematic abortion or even killing of female fetuses means a shortage of potential brides, there is the ambition to boost marital prospects.
"It's definitely easier to get a wife if you're a successful boxer," Balhara said. "I'm aiming for the 2016 Olympics. I don't know where they are being held [Rio de Janeiro] but I'm going to be there."
It is only recently that big money has entered Indian sport. Even cricket was relatively impoverished until the last decade, and other sports lag far behind. "Cricket is not a game in India. It's a religion and a business. There is a consumer craze for it," said Vijender Singh. Despite the focus on cricket, commercial endorsements and modeling have earned him significant sums. Singh's home in Kulawa, the biggest in the village, has all the trappings of the Indian middle-class dream: fitted kitchen, spacious dining room, lounge with hardwood furniture, air-conditioning and a generator in every room. Singh's father, Mahilpal, shrugged off the new wealth. "Our lives haven't changed much, though we did get to go to Delhi to meet the president," he said.
Bhiwani's boxing culture has jumped the otherwise rigid gender divide in the area. About a quarter of Jagdish Singh's charges are young women. Many have travelled long distances to reach the gym, inspired by the example of Mary Kom, India's most famous female boxer, who is going to London.
Sudesh Yadav lived an hour and a half by bus from the town but now stays near the gym.
Her mother enrolled her after she won a competition. "I really like it," the 14-year-old said. "I kept asking my mum to bring me here."
Suresh's mother said her daughter's enthusiasm was not the reason to send her to Bhiwani boxing club. "I collect dung from my front yard every day. I want a better life for my daughter," Kamlav Yadav said.
Read more: http://india.nydailynews.com/newsart...#ixzz1zsjFbxzf
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they could be a force to reckon with. can't reach you? They can stretch their limbs out. You'd die before wanting to get into a clinch with one
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