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Current selection process constantly challenges boxers: India boxing HPD  

Express News Service

Just days ahead of the IBA Women’s World Championships the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) was dragged to the court by three unhappy pugilists for being overlooked for the marquee event. India high performance director (HPD) Bernard Dunne was one of the key persons on the BFI selection panel who was involved in picking the twelve names for the marquee event. Despite the court intervention, the BFI went ahead with the team that they had announced. Four have gone on to confirm medals and Dunne, who’s been closely monitoring the boxers, is a pleased man. Ahead of Saturday’s final bouts (two Indians were due to fight for gold), Dunne explained the thought process behind the current selection criteria and the challenges that he has faced since joining late last year. Excerpts…

On India’s performance and the value of this competition for boxers

This is such a strong competition. You just have to look at the level of competition that has taken place throughout the competition. You have four athletes in the final, it’s a fantastic achievement. That is something that we’re really happy about but our focus has always been on performance, always building towards the bigger picture. We have got the Asian Games and Olympic Games coming up. It was our first opportunity to see our athletes on the big, big stage. We wanted to see how they handle the pressure, especially given the fact that it was being held in India. It was an added incentive on part. It is a great experience, especially the young athletes in the group.

On small changes and its noticeable impact

We are not just ‘attack, attack and attack’. There is a thought process involved. India has never lacked heart, never lacked hard work. We are trying to bring those little changes within the programme, in terms of reducing the load. If you speak with the athletes, they would see they feel a lot fresher. Our performances demonstrate that. We have got very clear goals now.

On continuous assessment over trials

The big part of us is giving clarity to the athletes, speaking to them on a regular basis and telling them why we are doing what we’re doing. Trials is the old system that was in place but that’s only one moment. That’s where judges and referees get to sit down and select a winner. Whereas with the system that we’ve brought in, in terms of assessment, we have the coaches and myself who walk with the athlete day in and day out. And it’s not just one moment, it’s based over a period of time. God forbid if they fall sick a day before the trials, what do they do? On the assessment side, it’s not one day, one week…it’s over a number of weeks. We get to see who at this moment is the best selection, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re always going to be the best selection. They have to come back and prove themselves again. What we see with this system is our level of performance keeps going up and up. Nobody rests saying ‘I’m number one.’ You’re always getting challenged, right across the system that’s what we’re looking for.
It actually normalises the pressure and normalises the anxiety that comes within the system because within our own high performance system, they’re constantly being watched. They know they’re being assessed. They are constantly challenged and being put under that pressure.

On the athletes who want to change categories with the Paris Olympics in mind

They (boxers) will have that opportunity after the World Championships. I have already expressed that to the athletes. Some of them may want to change weights and some of them may also not want a change and that’s also fine. We want to empower our athletes. We want them to own their careers and I also want them to be accountable. That’s why assessment becomes pivotal.

Biggest challenge since he joined late last year

The biggest challenge I have faced is some of the decisions I have had to make, especially in regards to selections. For instance, we could just take 12 athletes for this event and I had to disappoint 24 other athletes. I’m making 12 people happy and also telling others we need more from you and these are things we need more from you. My sole focus is making sure that I pick the best team to represent India. I have no allegiance to anybody. It’s up to the boxers to demonstrate ‘I’m the one to pick’.

On selection criteria for Asiad

Those who win gold and silver here (based on policy) are in selection for Asiad. But anything can happen before that. It’s really important for all our athletes to realise that if you’re called upon, you need to be ready. Nitu’s job is to only focus on what she’s doing right now.

On having multiple boxers fighting for a particular weight category and what he’s looking to bring in the boxers’ game.

That’s (multiple boxers) a great problem to have. There’s no plan for selection trials. From a technical perspective, we have to adapt to the athletes. I was technical on my day, but I’m not going to impose my style on any athlete. If my athlete is an aggressive fighter, I’m going to give instructions based on her/his style. We like to create universal styles. Our main objective is to ensure that the athletes can adapt and win contests themselves.

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