Sri Lanka’s start-all women’s boxer eyes international stardom as referee | Sunday Observer

Sri Lanka’s start-all women’s boxer eyes international stardom as referee

9 January, 2022
Reunion of the pioneers: Niroshini Bodhipaksha (left) with her coach Capt. RK Indrasena (Rtd) and Army team mate Chandrika Guruge
Reunion of the pioneers: Niroshini Bodhipaksha (left) with her coach Capt. RK Indrasena (Rtd) and Army team mate Chandrika Guruge

It was more than two decades ago at the dawn of the new Millennium that Sri Lanka became one of the first countries in Asia to start women’s boxing. The then Army Boxing Chairman Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya (Rtd), a former Stubbs Shield Best Boxer, and the then National coach Capt. RK Indrasena (Rtd) played a pioneering role in promoting women’s boxing in the Army.

Among the first group of women pugilists was a fresh faced teenager Niroshini Bodhipaksha who stamped her class in the sport by going on to represent Sri Lanka at the first ever Asian Women’s Boxing Championship held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2001. Although she hung up her gloves prematurely she is still active in the ring in a different role as a national referee and judge.

There was an interesting reunion of sorts between Bodhipaksha, her coach Indrasena and her Sri Lanka mate Chandrika Guruge who is coaching Army women now during the inter-regiment novices boxing meet held at the Army Cantonment gymnasium in Panagoda rekindling memories of the pioneering role they played in the annals of women’s boxing in the country.

“Although there was women’s boxing in the world, Sri Lanka became one of the first countries to introduce boxing to women in Asia,” recalled Indrasena who started women’s boxing in the Army.

Bodhipaksha created history when she was adjudged the Best Boxer at the Army inter-regiment novices boxing meet in 2001. A green belt in karate, Bodhipaksha was attracted to the tough combat sport of boxing when she was following a PTI (Physical Training Instructor) course at Panagoda after her talent was identified by Army boxing coach Indrasena.

Having joined Army’s 1 Women’s Corps soon after completing her education at St Joseph’s Girls College, Gampola realising her dream of joining the Army, boxing fuelled her ambition to represent Sri Lanka in the international arena. The youngest in a family of six girls, Niroshini Kumari Bodhipaksha excelled in sports such as volleyball and athletics winning laurels at All-Island competitions.

Her five sisters are all university graduates and doing government jobs while she also did an external degree but her fighting temperament drew her to showcase her talents in the ring.

She lived up to her talent and potential by winning the Light fly 48kg weight class at the first Women’s Boxing Championship for the Nieva Embuldeniya Trophy where Army emerged as the champion team. Thereafter she won a selection meet for the Asian championship held in Pannala defeating Nilmini Jayasinghe to make her international debut in the Fly 51kg weight class losing to a Mongolian opponent.

National women’s boxing champion in 2002, she was a member of the national pool but missed out on representing Sri Lanka at the World Championships and was runner-up at the Women’s National Championship the following year, soon after which she faded away from the sport after marrying Army officer Suranjith Wijethunge, a former Stubbs Shield winner from Peradeniya MMV and winner of a dual meet against the Indian Army.

“It was Capt. Indrasena who selected me after a meet. During the PTI course we learn about every sport. Boxing was new especially for women but I took a liking because I have done karate,” recalled Bodhipaksha who decided to continue her boxing career by qualifying as a boxing referee in 2014 a few years after leaving the Army.

Now she is one of the leading women boxing officials in the country. Pencil-slim Niroshini moves with panache and style as a referee in the ring just like during her days as a pugilist. “I love to do refereeing and the challenge of officiating heavyweight bouts,” said Bodhipaksha who is eager to perform on the international stage.

The 41-year-old mother of two young children showed that she had not lost her touch during the Army meet and wants to devote her time to go places in the sport as an official. “Having been a top class boxer she has the potential to go far as a referee in the sport,” said Indrasena who is the President of the Boxing Referees and Judges Association.

Bodhipaksha missed out on following a 1-star Referee and Judge Course conducted by the international body, AIBA, in Kuwait in 2019 and hopes she will get an opportunity to get her international qualification this year.