Seven years after winning the historic middleweight bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, ace boxer Vijender Singh turned professional in 2015. Since then the poster boy of Indian boxing has fought — and won — 12 professional bouts. His next bout is against Russian Artysh Lopsan on March 19 in Goa.
The last pro bout of Vijender, 35, was in November 2019. But before that he had taken a plunge in politics. He contested – and lost – for the South Delhi Parliamentary seat on a Congress party ticket. But even at the time he had insisted that he would never leave boxing. Then, Covid-19 pandemic stopped all sporting activities in almost the entire last year; it also shrunk resources, says Vijender.
In 2015, when Vijender — a 2009 World Championships bronze winner and 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games gold medallist — signed a deal with a London based professional boxing firm, he had the luxury of having a team of experts to chalk out his plans, ranging from his training to his diet. But he could not get his support team to India due to the pandemic situation in England.
And since neither Vijender could go overseas for training, he has largely been dependent on a talented pool of boxers from Haryana as his sparring partners. He even engaged his long-standing friend and training partner, Jai Bhagwan, a two-time Asian Championships medallist and the 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze winner, as coach.
Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Q: How have you been training for the March 19 bout?
A: It is an eight-round bout. So, I trained for 10 rounds in one session. Moreover, we changed sparring partners after two or three rounds to have a fresh opponent that could test my skills.
Q: You said there is some injury problem. Could you elaborate?
A: I hurt my nose during training. Initially it was bad. Now it’s better.
Q: You have just one week to go for big match. Is the injury a worrying factor?
A: No. I’m doing icing. It should be fine.
Q: Your opponent (Artysh Lopsan) is taller than you at 6-foot-four-inch. You are six-foot tall. How do you plan to tackle him?
A: I did sparring sessions with boxers taller than me to build up muscle memory. One of them was a Youth Asian medal winner from Jhajjar in Haryana. He wasn’t as strong as senior the athlete, but technically it helps to learn how to stay out of the reach of your rival, and go inside to score.
Q: Any advantage you have over your rival from Russia?
A: I guess I’m more experienced than him. I have played 12 bouts and trained in America and England. My last bout was in Dubai (November 2019). All that will play a vital role in winning.
Q: What will be your main strategy against Lopsan?
A: I don’t want to reveal the details. In the first round, I will be able to observe him and then I will plan for the remaining seven rounds.
Q: What is your main strength?
A: I believe in power packed punches. Endurance is the other weapon I rely on. I like to stay calm even if my opponent is aggressive.
Q: What was the reason for engaging Jai Bhagwan as your coach/trainer?
A: He was the best choice under the given circumstances. We know each other and he knows how to push me beyond the limits.
Q: Since your training sessions were quite strenuous, did you follow any specific diet plan?
A: As an athlete, I have good eating habits. I stick to it. But when I was training in England in 2015, there were a lot of emphasis on nutrition.
Q: How challenging has it been to stay fit in times of the pandemic?
A: It was a different kind of experience to cope with. I have learned a lot to do with limited resources. There were issues of niggling injuries in the build up to the main event. All I can say is it was an uphill task to get back into top fitness.
Q: During lockdown it was difficult to train. Did you put on weight?
A: Not much. I’m close to 79kg. I should be able to reduce at least three kilograms in the coming week.
Q: For some time you have been seen in different roles. Like supporting farmers’ agitation and training at the same time?
A: Whatever I do I do with my heart. I try to go all out.
Q: What have you learnt for the farmer’s agitation?
A: Every day is a new learning experience. I’ve desire to learn more.
Q: What about your plans of setting up a boxing academy in Haryana?
A: The plans are still there but I haven’t got the land from the government.
Q: Could you share your experience on the professional circuit?
A: It is very simple. You have to be super strong to survive in the pro circuit.
We want to build the biggest league outside India, says SA20 Commissioner Graeme Smith
In 15 years of its existence, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has emerged as the most prominent T20 league in the world. With T20 leagues proliferating around the world, all new entrants want to emulate IPL and become as successful in their region.
That is what upcoming South Africa’s domestic Twenty20 league aspires for — become the biggest league outside India.
With just over a month left for the start of the inaugural edition of SA20, commissioner Graeme Smith promised Indian fans an action-filled, world-class league.
“The goal of SA20 is to get South Africa cricket back to the place we all know it belongs – competing with India, competing with the likes of England and Australia and keeping the international game strong,” said SA20 Commissioner Graeme Smith at an event with Viacom18 Sports in Mumbai.
In November, Viacom18 and SA20 announced a partnership to exclusively broadcast and stream South Africa’s recently-launched premier T20 league in India.
Smith added, “We have that opportunity now through the partners we have been able to attract — the six teams, we are going to put sixty to eighty of South African players on the map and bring that fandom to India and the new heroes will come to the IPL and play for South Africa all around the world – that’s our goal. We want to build something vibrant and being able to build the biggest league outside India is something that we would really love to achieve.”
The six teams in SA20 — Durban’s Super Giants, Joburg Super Kings, MI Cape Town, Paarl Royals, Pretoria Capitals, and Sunrisers Eastern Cape — are owned by IPL franchise owners. The popularity of South African players with Indian fans coupled with the pedigree of the team owners gives SA20 a robust platform to build one of the top international T20 leagues globally.
“SA20 is primed to become one of the most popular T20 leagues in the world,” said Viacom18 Sports CEO Anil Jayaraj at an event celebrating the partnership. “At prime-time in India, the cricket-loving audience will watch South Africa’s most revered players along with global superstars and our presentation will match the energy and excitement that will come with it.”
The league features teams playing each other twice in a round-robin stage before the semis and final played over four weeks. MI Cape Town and neighbours Paarl Royals kickstart the tournament at Newlands on January 10. The opening game will be followed by Durban’s Super Giants hosting the Joburg Super Kings at Kingsmead on January 11
The SA20 will see international superstars like Quinton de Kock, Faf Du Plessis, Kagiso Rabada, David Miller, Anrich Nortje, Rashid Khan, Jos Buttler, Eoin Morgan, Adil Rashid, Jason Roy, Liam Livingstone, Maheesh Theekshana, Jason Holder in action.
T20 World Cup: Unchanged India win toss, elect to bat first against the Netherlands
India won the toss and elected to bat first against The Netherlands in their second Group 2 match of the Super 12s in the Men’s T20 World Cup at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Wednesday.
This will be the first time India and The Netherlands will play a T20I against each other. Both teams are playing with unchanged elevens from their opening Super 12 matches in Melbourne and Hobart respectively.
“Morale is really high (after the four-wicket win over Pakistan). Winning a game like that takes your confidence to the next level but at the same time we understand we need to stay calm, just the first game of the tournament and plenty of things to happen,” said India skipper Rohit Sharma.
“We have to calm ourselves and look forward to this game. We want to keep improving no matter what the results are, it always keeps you in good stead when you are thinking like that,” Sharma added.
Sharma further noted that the pitch could be a touch slower at Sydney. “The pitch has been used for 40 overs so I expect it is going to be slightly slower. We are used to playing on such tracks.”
The Netherlands captain Scott Edwar’s said he’s happy to bowl first though he would have wanted to bat first too. “Our bowlers have been sensational all tournament, hopefully, we can continue that and our batters can come out and perform today. Batting is the obvious one (to improve), just need to get some scores together.”
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Arshdeep Singh
Netherlands: Vikramjit Singh, Max O’Dowd, Bas de Leede, Colin Ackermann, Tom Cooper, Scott Edwards (captain & wk), Tim Pringle, Logan van Beek, Shariz Ahmed, Fred Klaassen and Paul van Meekeren
India, Saudi Arabia shortlisted for AFC Asian Cup in 2027; Qatar to host 2023 edition
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has shortlisted India and Saudi Arabia to bid for the 2027 edition of its flagship Men’s Asian Cup at a meeting of its Executive Committee at which it was also confirmed that Qatar will host AFC Asian Cup 2023.
The AFC Executive Committee deliberated upon the bidding proposals for the AFC Asian Cup 2027 and shortlisted the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) as the final two bidders with the hosting decision to be taken by the AFC Congress at its next meeting in February 2023.
The decision brings to a close the bid proposal of the Qatar Football Association (QFA) who were considered to have withdrawn from the 2027 race following their successful 2023 bid in accordance with the applicable bidding regulations.
China was to host the 2023 Asian Cup but pulled out as hosts a few months back citing the Covid-19 pandemic as the reason.
Chairing the 11th AFC Executive Committee meeting, AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa congratulated the Qatar Football Association (QFA) on their successful bid and also conveyed the appreciation of the Asian football family to the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) and the Korea Football Association (KFA) for their proposals.
“On behalf of the AFC and the Asian football family, I want to congratulate the Qatar Football Association on being awarded the hosting rights of the upcoming edition of the AFC Asian Cup,” he said.
“We must also thank the Football Association of Indonesia and the Korea Football Association for outlining their intentions to stage the tournament.
“Qatar’s capabilities and track record in hosting major international sporting events and their meticulous attention to detail are well admired throughout the globe.
“I must also commend the AFC for showcasing utmost professionalism in conducting a fair and transparent expedited bidding process and I thank all our commercial partners and sponsors for their patience during these unprecedented times.
“Given the short lead time in preparation, we know that the hard work begins immediately but with their existing world-class infrastructure and unrivalled hosting capabilities, we are confident that Qatar will stage a worthy spectacle befitting the prestige and stature of Asia’s crown jewel,” he added.
Qatar are the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions and will be hosting the continent’s most prestigious men’s tournament for the third time after staging the 1988 and 2011 editions.
Meanwhile, Football Australia withdrew from the AFC Asian Cup 2023 bidding process on September 1, 2022, while the Uzbekistan Football Association and the Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran officially withdrew their bids to host the AFC Asian Cup 2027 on December 14, 2020, and October 13, 2022, respectively.
The AFC President added, “Again, we thank our three Member Associations — the All India Football Federation, the Qatar Football Association and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation — for submitting strong bids to host the AFC Asian Cup 2027.
“We must also acknowledge the Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran and the Uzbekistan Football Association for signaling their intent to host the 2027 edition and Football Australia for indicating their interest for the 2023 tournament.
“Across our competitions, we are seeing our digital engagement and TV viewership grow in record numbers and it is our responsibility to ensure that each tournament surpasses the achievements of the previous edition.
“In the All India Football Federation and the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, we have two exemplary bids, and I am confident that the Qatar Football Association will strengthen the foundations for the eventual 2027 hosts to build upon,” said the AFC president.
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