Indian woman boxer Sarita Devi and her cousin Devendro Singh justifiably feel cheated, robbed and deprived of possible gold medals at the Incheon Asian Games.
Ever since the decision went against her, Sarita Devi was only seen crying inconsolably and she obviously took it to heart. That was evident from the way she refused to accept the bronze awarded to her for her semi-final loss in the lightweight division.
Intriguingly, both the Indian boxers lost their bouts against the Korean opponents and there lies the catch. There are ways and ways to get a verdict in your favour in non-measurable sports. In boxing, a bench of three judges adjudicates a bout and the outcome is decided on a majority vote.
There was no need of a review or protest over the verdict after the reported statement of Sarita’s opponent Park Jina that she was embarrassed as the Indian was the clear winner. If she had indeed stated thus then the judges should be investigated and punished.
By all accounts what happened to Sarita was blatantly unfair and what she did at the prize distribution ceremony was her emotional outburst. As an international boxer of standing even she knows that she has crossed the line by refusing to let the bronze medal be put around her neck, but then these things happen at the spur of the moment even though the International Boxing Association (AIBA) see it differently.
Now Sarita faces the severest punishment meted out for her lack of sportsmanship - a ban from the ring for life by AIBA, unless some influential officials of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) plead on her behalf to treat her leniently considering the emotional stress she was in. But the OCA has a sort of exonerated her by reinstating her bronze medal.
Boxing bouts are notorious for subjective considerations. It is too much of a coincidence that apart from Sarita and Devendro there was another bout involving yet another South Korean and it went against a Mongolian boxer.
What defies boxing logic is that all three judges gave the bout to the Korean, making it amply clear that the decision was taken even before the boxer got into the ring!
Mary Kom, the flyweight gold medallist quipped “of course Park won because she is Korean” and that sums it up.
In sport, the people controlling international federations have enormous clout. For over three decades Pakistan’s late Anwar Chaudhry ran AIBA with an iron fist, first as secretary general and then as president before he was overthrown by the incumbent president Chinese Tapei’s Chin-Kuo Wu in 2006.
An engineering professor, Chaudhry was ruthless. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) questioned his selection of judges and referees and even stopped grants to AIBA until there is fair play in that sport. He was even accused of manipulating results, making Pakistani boxers victors. He lost his post eventually facing the usual allegations of embezzlement of AIBA funds. Still, he managed to poll 79 votes to Wu’s 83 and it only shows how well he took care of his vote bank.
The current president, onsidered a decent person, has funnily nothing to do with boxing as such. He was a basketballer, though he has been associated with boxing in his country.
The AIBA has a secretary general in Caner Doganeli of Turkey. But he also doubles up as a vice president and he doesn’t seem to have control over his principal post.
For all practical purposes the secretary-general’s work is apparently being handled by Executive Director Ho Kim of South Korea. That explains why the Koreans are taken care of in the ring.
Another example of South Korean manipulation came during Chaudhry’s time when in 1988 Olympics in Seoul, their boxers had a windfall. In one of the fights, the video showed the American boxer landing 86 punches to the Korean’s 32 and yet three of the five judges gave the bout to the latter. An independent review of Sarita's bout can clear the matters and India should approach the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CSA).
In the 1982 Asian Games the Koreans tried to get pally with an Indian basketball referee knowing that he would be officiating in their match against China. The tried to gift him expensive gadgets, but the ref was too smart not fall for the bait and he promptly reported the matter to the organisers.
The sport is replete with such manipulations by the authorities. Hockey is the best example. After being subjugated for decades, the Europeans came back with vengeance by changing rules to suit them and to the disadvantage of the Indians. India slowly lost its voice in the corridors of power and that meant they could not even stop umpires inimical to them from being posted for their matches.
It is simple, you either have a say in the board room to take care of your team or perform so well on the field of play so that you have the clout.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)