Santiago Nieva, who was retained as High Performance Director of Indian men’s boxing after a few months of deliberation and discussion, says the immediate focus in his second stint would be to rebuild the team that hit rock bottom by finishing medalless in the Tokyo Olympics. The Argentina-born Swede is expected to be back in the country within a week after being offered a new contract, which expired last year after a three-month extension after the Olympics. His performance will be judged at the end of each year until the 2024 Games in Paris.
“Even my last contract had an annual review and this will be no different. I’m waiting for paperwork from Sports Authority of India (SAI) after which I’ll go back to India, which should be another week,” Nieva told PTI from Sweden.
His position came under considerable pressure in the wake of the Tokyo Games, where none of the five Indian male boxers, including world number one, Amit Panghal, were able to make it through the preparatory stage.
The result was particularly shocking, as the same group of boxers had delivered unprecedented medals at prestigious events such as the Asian Games and the World Championships.
The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) was expected to be “unsatisfied” with the performance and its top officials spoke of extending Nieva’s contract as an unlikely possibility.
However, he managed to get out of the review unscathed, although his women’s team counterpart Rafaelle Bergamasco lost his job.
“My discussions with the federation have been positive so far. Yes, there were long discussions, but they were good. We agreed that we need to rebuild some things and strive for continuity in others. We agreed on that’, says Nieva.
WILL PRESS FULL-TIME PSYCHOLOGIST IN KAMP
The Tokyo performance was like a punch in the stomach that came at a time when the sport and everyone associated with it were at their most optimistic thanks to some brilliant results against world class opponents.
Panghal was considered a guaranteed medalist in the 52kg category after beating all of his stronger contemporaries in events leading up to the Games.
But he was literally beaten in Tokyo in the first round itself by Yurberjen Herney Mart nez Rivas, the 2016 Games light flyweight silver medalist.
Nieva said there have been several deliberations about the fiasco and yet clear answers are not easy to find.
However, he acknowledged that BFI President Ajay Singh’s assessment of boxers who were impressed by the massive podium was not entirely wrong.
“We also talked about Tokyo. We all wanted medals, but nobody had the answer to this particular question about what went wrong,” he said.
“It’s not math where the answers are black and white. We agreed that certain aspects need improvement,” he explains.
So what are the specifics of this rebuilding process he discussed with the BFI?
“The pandemic is a major challenge in itself. Once again competitive boxing is taking a hit due to the resurgence of business and we all know how crucial competition is. We need to make sure that boxers get enough competition both outside and in India. There are a few more things I’ll work out later,” he said.
“I would also like to add a psychologist to the camp, but it has to be the right person, because trust is an important factor. It is clear that we are lacking in several aspects and we will improve.
“A full-time nutritionist and yes, we need strength and conditioning experts that we had for a while before the Tokyo Olympics but lost after the Games,” he added.
NEW WEIGHT CATEGORIES: IT’S TOO MUCH, SAYS NIEVA
The International Boxing Association (IBA) changed weight categories for both men and women last year.
The total number of divisions for men now stands at 13 with the addition of three new categories.
The world body says it would make life easier for boxers if they jump weights according to the growth of their body. Several boxers agree.
But Nieva thinks it’s one too many, although he expects the move to work in India’s favor.
“I think 12 is more than enough at the maximum. 13 is too many and different countries will struggle to get teams going, but for India it’s good because we have a huge talent pool and it won’t be difficult to find boxers to fill the team,” he estimated in.
“But in general this will make it more expensive for federations to run competitions, and there would just be too many matches in a day, which would be a tough schedule for everyone,” he said.
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