TODAY -

Lost at Decision, Won at Boxing

Premkumar Heigrujam *

Laishram Sarita gestures towards silver medalist South Korea's Park Ji-na as the latter tries to persuade Devi to accept her bronze medal on October 01 2014
Laishram Sarita gestures towards silver medalist South Korea's Park Ji-na as the latter tries to persuade Devi to accept her bronze medal on October 01 2014 :: Pix - The Sangai Express / Agencies



It looks like a joke when you see the video that Sarita, with an "explosion of punches", "hammered" and "pounded" Park like hell and Park, who lasted till the last round by hugging and hiding, was declared winner! I am not exaggerating- this is what I and many saw and what the commentator repeatedly said during the semi-final bout between India's L. Sarita Devi and South Korea's Park Jin-a in the just concluded 2014 Incheon Asian Games, South Korea. Park Jin-a was declared winner despite L. Sarita Devi dominating the whole fight.

If you have watched the bout between the two fighters and listened to what the commentator said, you will find that even the commentator, leave alone the Indian audiences, was also in doubt when Park's name was announced as the winner. That poor guy certainly did not believe what he just saw. This was what he had to say at the end of 3rd Round and when two of the judges gave scores in favour of Park over Sarita: "But from my viewpoint a lot more of the scoring punches were from the gloves of Devi (L. Sarita Devi)."

Beginning form the 1st Round itself, you see that Sarita dominated Park. To substantiate this, I will not go by the version of someone you will later call biased or partial. Let's go by the version of the commentator. A commentator, here a sports commentator, is the one who tells things as it is. He is the one who is saying what is happening in the game. There is little scope he could lie. It is hardly possible that he could say things that do not happen in the game or the fight when everyone is watching the same game or fight with him. On the other hand, he has to describe things in a fast manner and the possibility of making up stories that do not exist is very remote.

In the case of the fight between L. Sarita Devi and Park Jin-a, this was what the commentator said about L. Sarita Devi of India:

"Good punching here by Devi.... Devi getting inside with a couple of heavy punches to the head of (Park)....to the left and right...reining on Park... Devi is a heavy puncher.... flurry of punches... hammering... Devi all over Park Jin-a in exchange of punches... Blood coming from (the) nose of Park... explosion of punches by Devi... Both throw lot of punches but some heavy blows to the head of Park... Right across the Park's face... Another round of combination... she (Sarita) really is slamming the head of Park... couple of straight punches right to the middle of the face (of Park).... Right and left from Devi scoring in that exchange of punches and more of Devi's punches landing (on Park)."

Sarita was commented dominating Park in the whole fight beginning with the 1st Round till the 4th Round (last round). Yet when the judges favoured Park over Sarita in the scorecard, the commentator did not just believe it. He confessed that it was supposed to be Sarita over Park in terms of scoring punches. The repeated headgear adjustments of Park and the highlights showing Sarita punching Park heavily, pounding all over Park's face- all these were convincing enough reasons why the commentator could not believe the judges giving scores favouring Park. Who else would, even the Koreans themselves?

The only exclusive mention of Park Jin-a in the bout by the commentator was in the Last Round when the fight was about to end- just few seconds left. The fight of Park Jin-a can be summarised in what the commentator said: "Right hook form Park, gone around the back (of Sarita)."

This particular scandal-like incident reminds me of one of the worst decisions in the Boxing's history. The Roy Jones Junior's final bout against Si Hun Park of South Korea in 1988 Seoul Olympics in which Park was declared winner despite everyone witnessing with their eyes that it was Jones who punched Park heavily and that it was Jones who was the obvious winner. In the punch counts Jones had 303 thrown, 86 landed compared to Park's 188 thrown, 32 landed respectively. In terms of percentage of punch counts it was 28 percent for Jones compared to Park's mere 17 percent.

Well, the Americans were shocked. The American commentator of that unfortunate bout was surprised. Roy Jones Junior stood there in disbelief. Si Hun Park came to Jones and lifted him with joy! South Koreans were happy and cheering for their "winner" Park.

Later, it was reportedly said that the three judges were actually dined with and bribed by the South Korean officials. They were found guilty and banned. Si Hun Park later rendered an apology to Roy Jones Junior. The decision that favoured Park however was not reversed. That Olympic Gold Medal never landed on Jones' neck. Roy Jones Junior however became the finest boxer that the game could ever witness and won various titles. And, we never hear of Si Hun Park again.

But the 2014 Asian Games saw another Park, another South Korean at South Korea and a daylight "robbery" of a medal that was meant for somebody who struggled odds to realise a long cherished dream of winning gold at the Games. Yes, L. Sarita Devi, like Mary Kom or any other player in India and particularly in Manipur, has fought various odds to reach to this level. And, she could win that Gold Medal when given the opportunity. Or, at least she deserved to be in the final. But she was robbed of the opportunity.

The decision shocked the Indians. Sarita's husband was furious. She herself was in disbelief. There was a lot of booeing when the judgement favouring Park over Sarita was announced.

This time, in the history of boxing, L. Sarita Devi was doing something that Roy Jones Junior did not in 1988. She took the bronze medal and slipped around Park Jin-a's neck who was beaten in the final bout by her Chinese opponent. Her act was in defiance of what the officials say 'rules'.

Criticising this particular act of Sarita, Son Cheon-taik, Deputy Secretary of the Incheon Asian Games organising committee said she should have respected the official ruling and showed sportsmanship. Our fellow country-men and -women, while supporting Sarita, are also commenting in social media that Sarita's action of handing the bronze medal to Park was regrettable. Sarita, under immense pressure and considering her future career of course, has reportedly rendered a written apology to the concerned officials.

But I do not regret Sarita's actions. Nor do I see her lacking sportsmanship.

I find her actions showing a rare spirit of acting against the unjust acts of the judges despite fully knowing that she would be facing undesirable consequences. Yes, Sarita had the full knowledge that her actions would attract a harsh punishment, even lifetime ban on her career, from the AIBA. Yet, she acted with a will to defy the unjust decisions of the potentially- corrupted judges. There may be rules but what if the rules are used to unequally favour one over another.

One of the arguments given by South Koreans is that none of the judges in the bout were South Koreans. But the same is true in the case of Roy Jones Junior versus Si Hun Park fight- none of the judges in their case was not also South Koreans. But they were bribed and so the decision was in favour of Si Hun Park, the South Korean boxer.

There is no conclusion that the judges in the fight between Sarita and Park were bribed. It is simply that this cannot be ruled out.

The incident is not an isolated one but the worst of its kind. There are other controversies that South Koreans had gone too far to make South Koreans get some medal or trophy. But, Sarita's case is one of the worst.

If she had not acted upon no one would find out the gross injustice permeated to her. It was her daring act that attracted the attention of the people to see what was happening. She did it without any intention of attracting favour of any kind but her courageous act was appreciated by many sports-loving people. That has made a difference now.

As it was being said in Roy Jones Junior's, it can be said in L. Sarita Devi's that "IN LOSING, A BOXER WON."

P.S. I do not want to comment on the Indian officials on that day. You already know.


* Premkumar Heigrujam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a M. Phil. scholar in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi and can be contacted at pkheija(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on October 04, 2014.


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