Urges more corporates to come forward and support athletes, have live telecast of sports other than cricket
Sweta Ranjan | June 14, 2022 | New Delhi
“As an athlete I'm here to represent India. For me, Hindu-Muslim doesn't matter. I represent my country, not a community,” world champion boxer Nikhat Zareen has said when asked how she felt when people spoke about her background and religion more than her achievement as a boxer.
Zareen was invited by the Indian Women's Press Corps on Monday to interact with the media. The 25-year-old pugilist from Telangana emphasised upon the importance of training to athletes for handling mental pressure at high-stakes sporting events.
Handling “mental pressure” at the highest level is something Indian athletes lack, she said, adding that specialised training should be given to overcome this hurdle at big-ticket events.
Zareen, who shot to fame by becoming only the fifth Indian woman to be crowned world champion last month when she beat Thailand's Jitpong Jutamas 5-0 in the flyweight division of the championship in Turkey, said that Indian athletes have a tendency to perform well at regular events but falter at the big stage like the Olympics or the world championships.
“Our Indian boxers are very talented; we are not less than anyone. We have strength, speed and power… everything,” Zareen said. “It’s just that once you reach that (world) level, boxers should be given training to handle the mental pressure. Once you reach the big platforms a lot of athletes become nervous, they aren’t able to perform,” she added.
Coming from an orthodox background, Zareen did not have a smooth sail to winning the world championship. How was it for her to handle societal prejudice and struggle to make her way to finally win the gold in the 52kg category at the AIBA World Championship?
“Following my World Boxing Championship Gold, I realise people’s expectations have gone up. I will work harder and put in more preparation to get a medal in the 2024 Paris Olympics.” For now, her focus is on the Commonwealth Games to be held in Birmingham from July 28- August 8, 2022.
Zareen said that the support from state governments and corporates is very important for the growth and success of an athlete. Lauding the support from Sports Authority of India (SAI), she said SAI centres remained open during the COVID lockdown to enable athletes to train without interruption. She called the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) an amazing initiative that had enabled athletes to train at the top level without any worry.
Thanking her corporate sponsors, she urged more corporates to come forward to support athletes. Asked why cricket matches overshadow any other sport in India, the boxer said, “Like cricket, there should be live telecast of boxing bouts to inspire youngsters to take up the sport.”
Talking about her struggle in the 50-kg category, which was dominated by six-time World Boxing champion MC Mary Kom, Zareen said the wait for opportunities only increased her hunger. “If I had not struggled, I might not have worked so hard. And if I hadn’t worked hard, I wouldn’t be a world champion today,” she said.
Talking about her boxing idols, Nikhat said besides admiring Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, she was impressed with British Olympic medallist Nicola Adams. “I wanted to have one fight with her before she retired. I liked her stance, her clean boxing style. She would show her game and I liked that,” she said.
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