Indian boxing has undergone a whirlwind change of fortunes during the course of past year. The first big recruitment of the Boxing Federation of India was the appointment of former Sweden coach Santiago Nieva as the high performance director of the men and women’s teams.

It has been an interesting cultural and boxing experience for the former Argentina pugilist. The Field caught up with him to talk about the hurdles he faced during his initial months and what needs to be done for India to enter into the big league, which includes traditional powerhouses such as China, USA, Kazakhstan and Russia.


What have been the challenges for you since you took over and how have you coped with them?

The challenge for me was to handle such a large number of boxers – 60 boxers from at Patiala in the national camp on a day to day basis. It took time to get to know everyone individually. The coaches and the support staff alone comprised of 20 people. Usually most national teams have a lesser number. That was a problem for the first month.

Gradually, You learn to organise accordingly. You concentrate on the main boxers who will participate in major tourmaments and balance it with the other boxers.

On using technology to get his point across...

We want to share as much information as possible so that that the communication levels are clear and the players know what I want with video analysis. When we are touring, we work on an individual level.

What is your view of the boxing system in the country?

When I first came, I wanted to see how the system works. I knew that I was already entering a country that had won World championship medals, Olympic medals etc. Despite going through a few hard years without having a federation, there is a structure but some of the modern day procedures such as video analysis – was missing. Training that we were doing previously was also a little bit old school. Changing that was the first step.

What does one need to do for aspiring to be among the top nations in the sport?

Within the first four months, we had three boxers in the quarter-finals of the World Championships, equalling India’s best performance. Everybody wants to perform like the way we have in Guwahati. China, Italy, Cuba, Kazhakistan and Uzbekistan – all of us want to get to that level.

If you say you want to reach the level of these countries, then I can say that we don’t have the infrastructure levels of any of them.

What does one do then?

Right now, we don’t have a good compeition system for boxing. In any other country, the top boxers get 15-20 bouts every years. They compete every month in juniors, sub-juniors etc. I saw that here, some of them don’t compete for eight months in a year. That is not the case elsewhere.

I need them to be training for two weeks and importantly, playing every month across age groups. The top boxers don’t have a problem. But remember, we have 60 boxers, not 10. They need to develop.

About diet and nutrition

Nutrition is one of the next steps we need to look at carefully. The nutrition culture in India is not the best for high performance, especially in this sport where watching one’s weight is important. We really have to do something. During tours abroad, our boxers are not used to the food. They skip meals or they simply don’t like it.

How can we improve tactically?

By carefully studying videos. When do you score...When do you position for attacks...when do you get into trouble. That is a way to help the boxers understand what they can do and what they can avoid.

Many bright young boxers fall out of the radar while graduating from junior to senior level

These things will happen naturally when you have people who have had to face a lot of struggle to come up in life. They’ve obviously had to fight even harder. Some of these girls will face Asian champions, world champions, boxers of the class of Mary Kom etc. Some don’t have a problem, some take time. Some are not willing to put in the necessary effort to make the next step.

This happens everywhere. In Sweden, we had three-four medallists in youth and junior championships but they have not gone on to replicate that success in senior level. We need to do the best possible work for them to make the transition. We need to allow them to play

What about the next generation of women boxers. The ones from Mary Kom’s generation are now aging

She [Mary Kom] is still going strong and won the Asian Championships recently. With the modern training methods, I think she easily has another three more years in her.

With training, I can tell you that having watched some of the training, there is too much emphasis on head punching and very little on the body.

The International Olympic Committee has trimmed down the number of boxers to 286 across 13 events in recent years. Do you think this is fair on the boxing community?

I would [ideally] like it to be like how it was in the past, where we had lot of players. Not just boxing, wrestling, weightlifting are also lowering down on their weight categories to include other sports. We had our dream phase 20 years ago. Our ratio is below-par with 286 boxers. We should be atleast 300. In the Barcelona Olympics [in 1992], we had 364 competitors: That is a huge drop. We need to fight for our spots in the Olympics. How do you split 13 medallists? Like I said, we must fight.

On having the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games in the same year

We are lucky to have more exposure [in 2018]. It is important to compete regularly and we come prepared for the medals. It is not about having one team here [Asiad] and one team there [Commonwealth]. In case there is a strong boxer, he or she will compete in both competitions; I want the best team in both competitions. It’s not like a Cuba where you have two separate teams altogether from one tournament to the next.