New Delhi: He is ready to take "moral responsibility" for India's medal-less boxing campaign in Rio Olympics but national coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu says the four-year-long administrative logjam cannot escape blame for all that has gone wrong with the once flourishing sport.
"I am personally hurt and I take moral responsibility for this. But I feel my boys' performance was satisfactory under the current circumstances and with the kind of tough draws they ended up getting. As for other things, I knew what was going on in the last four years but I continued thinking that things would improve," a disheartened Sandhu told PTI in an interview.
Boxing became an Olympic medal hope for India ever since Vijender Singh's historic bronze in the Beijing 2008 edition. MC Mary Kom added another bronze to the kitty in 2012 when women boxers made their debut in London edition.
In Rio, at least one medal was expected from the three who made the cut. The expectation was despite the fact that boxing had hit a downward spiral following the termination of the national federation in 2012 for manipulation in elections.
"The luck factor was totally zero this time for us. All my boys lost to eventual medallists. I am not trying to save anybody here but we have to be realistic. The draws were very tough," Sandhu said.
The draws were indeed hard on the Indians. Shiva Thapa (56kg) lost to eventual gold-medallist Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba in the opening round, while Manoj Kumar (64kg) also went down to gold-winner Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in his pre-quarterfinal bout.
Vikas Krishan (75kg), on the other hand, was defeated by eventual silver-medallist Bektemir Melikuziev in the quarterfinal. Sandhu appealed to the officials to wake up to the damage that has been done to the sport in four years of complete mess in administration.
"It is my humble request, let us understand what is happening to our boxers, let us understand their suffering. We need to forget our egos. The first step towards making things right is to have an effective national federation because without a federation, we are orphans," he was blunt in his observation.
"Nothing can be built without a solid foundation, a smooth-functioning federation is a foundation for any sport. I repeat that without a federation, India will not have a voice in the international arena, no technical representation and that hurts our progress," he added.
Sandhu, who has been with the national team for more than two decades, said on the upside, boxers got all the facilities they wanted to prepare for the Games but what they did not get was competitive foreign exposure.
"I have never seen the kind of facilities that were provided to the boxers this time. They got everything they wanted and the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Director Injeti Srinivas was exceptionally cooperative. But yes, because of the suspension we were not being invited for those crucial training-cum-competition trips to Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan or Cuba where our boxers could test themselves against the best minus the pressure," he said.
"That is why I am saying again and again that we need a strong federation. We need to get India back in the World Series of Boxing (WSB). We need to get back that franchise because this Olympics was dominated by the boxers who participated in WSB and the International Boxing Association's (AIBA) Professional league (APB)," he said.
India were a part of the semi-professional WSB before the administrative mess led to the franchise owners giving up on it.
"We must immediately start APB because it helps in getting seedings. Vikas got the 7th seeding in the Olympics because he had competed in a couple of APB bouts, I think it made a difference. Shiva, on the other hand, did not get a seeding even though he is World No 6 in amateur rankings," he explained.
Asked about his own future given that he had wanted "rest" after Rio, Sandhu was non-committal.
"Let's see what's in store," was his rather open-ended response before signing off.