Below the belt hitting at boxing selections | Sunday Observer

Below the belt hitting at boxing selections

8 May, 2022
Niraj Wijewardena
Niraj Wijewardena

The Boxing Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is up in arms over attempts to manipulate the selection of boxers for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games by officials with vested interests to promote a pugilist who made his professional boxing debut in a tournament held in Dubai this year.

The boxer concerned Niraj Wijewardena was ironically the last choice in the priority list of eight male boxers made by the national boxing selection committee after the final selection trial was conducted by the BASL. The former Kingswood star failed to impress the national selectors during the first trial held in December and lost the second trial to a Navy boxer after the bout was stopped when he bled profusely after a clash of heads. Despite winning the 75kg weight class in the final trial, the national selectors seem unimpressed placing him last on the priority list for various reasons.

“We graded them according to their performance in all three selection trials because every boxer can have an off day. Also we took into account the medal winning potential of Sri Lanka boxers at the Commonwealth Games where we have never competed in the heavier weight classes,” said a national boxing selector speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sri Lanka won a medal at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games after 68 years. Anusha Kodituwakku fighting in the 45-48kg weight class won a bronze medal creating history becoming the first Sri Lankan woman to do so. This was followed by two more bronze medals by two male pugilists light fly weight (under 48kg) Thiwanka Ranasinghe and fly weight (under 52kg) Ishan Bandara. Incidentally Bandara is the number one choice of the selectors for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games after the reigning national champion from Army dominated his weight class in all three trials.

Since the National Olympic Committee (NOC) had said the quota for boxing was eight (five men and three women), the national selectors had made their choices accordingly. A list of eight boxers in the men’s under 51 kg, under 54kg, under 57, under 71kg, under 63.5kg and including three more categories under 67kg, under 81kg and under 75kg was compiled in that particular order.

However, NOC officials who are in the National Sports Selection Committee (NSSC) had tried to pressure BASL officials to select Wijewardena citing the fact that he has professional boxing experience. “It is a funny and silly logic to select someone just because he fought a few extra rounds as a professional over and above the sixth and seventh choices. It also undermines the national selection committee,” said a veteran boxing official.

The national boxing selection committee comprises General Jagath Jayaasuirya (rtd) as chairman, Udeni Kiridena, Susantha Weerasena, Dr Arukgoda and HS Caldera. The NSSC comprises General Shavendra Silva as chairman, Arjun Fernando and Hafeez Marso while NOC president Suresh Subramaniam and NOC secretary Maxwell de Silva are ex-officio members of this panel.

At a time when the NOC had declared that they would be sponsoring athletes who have a chance of winning medals at the Commonwealth Games due to paucity of funds, it comes as a surprise to note that the NOC is even willing to sponsor Wijewardena. It smacks of corruption and breaking protocols to accommodate the choice of someone who has vested interest in that particular boxer being selected for the Games.

“None of the boxers selected have a chance of winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games. The Boxing Association could have compromised by selecting this boxer,” said a member of the NSSC also speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, BASL president Dian Gomes is crying foul play accusing the NOC of interference and trying to manipulate selections. “We must stop this corruption at any cost including in our sports. Let’s clean up at every level,” he wrote in a Facebook post.