2023 Women's World Boxing Championships: Nikhat, Lovlina lead Indian contingent against depleted field

Nikhat Zareen will defend her world title at the 2023 Women's World Boxing Championships in New Delhi. Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The world's best boxing stars will descend upon India as the 2023 Women's World Boxing Championships get underway in New Delhi on Wednesday.

This is the third time India is hosting the Worlds - the competition [which was introduced in 2001] was held here in 2006 and 2018. This is also set to be the biggest competition ever - over 350 women boxers from 74 countries have signed up.

There are numerous talking points ahead of the Worlds - from India's squad to countries boycotting the event as well as an administrative tussle, there's plenty going on.

What's at stake?

Confusion #1. The International Boxing Association (IBA), which was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year, has announced the men's and women's Worlds will be the 'main qualification events' for the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics. The IOC has since denied that, but the IBA remains adamant.

Such is the confusion that even the hosts, the Boxing Federation of India (BFI), are searching for clarity. "There is no clarity on that. The IOC will take a call on whether the results here will be considered for (Paris) Olympic qualification or another tournament will be announced at a later date," BFI president, Ajay Singh said last week. So yeah...that's that.

All that is certain is that each of the winners in the 12 categories will walk away with $100,000 in prize money.

Didn't we have a new World champion last year?

Oh yes, Nikhat Zareen! She's been in some electric form. She won the Strandja Memorial, World Championships and Commonwealth Games last year and is India's firm medal favourite this time around. She's made the full-time switch to the 50kg category [which has replaced 52kg as an Olympic weight category] but that won't change her game much as she won the 50kg gold at the Commonwealth Games.

We have an Olympic medallist too, yes?

Lovlina Borgohain hasn't had the best run since her Tokyo Olympics bronze medal, but competing at home might just do the trick for her. She made a major switch by moving to the 75kg category after the 69kg category, in which she won both her Worlds and Olympics bronze medals, was scrapped.

Lovlina's reach was her big weapon in the 69kg category, but that may not be the case in the 75kg. She's in for a stern test, which would help her assess and take a stock of what she needs to work on ahead of the Asian Games and Olympics.

What's India's full squad for the Women's World Boxing Championships?

India will be represented by: Nitu Ghanghas (48kg), Nikhat Zareen (50kg), Sakshi Chaudhary (52kg), Preeti (54kg), Manisha Moun (57kg), Jaismine Lamboria (60kg), Shashi Chopra (63kg), Manju Bamboria (66kg), Sanamcha Chanu (70kg), Lovlina Borgohain (75kg), Saweety Boora (81kg) and Nupur Sheoran (81+kg).

So wait...no Mary Kom?

Nope, Mary hasn't returned to competitive boxing since she suffered an injury during trials for the Commonwealth Games last year. The six-time world champion has been named as an ambassador for the event. However, she is eager to return to the ring.

"I'm trying to come back soon. Because I have only this year, next year I'll be forced to retire. So this year I want to compete in any competition before retirement," she said on Monday. She turns 41 in November, going past the maximum participation age of 40.

As is the case...any court cases surrounding the team selection?

You bet! Manju Rani (48kg), Shiksha Narwal (54kg) and Poonam Poonia (60kg) appealed to the Delhi High Court. In their writ petition, they argued that all the other gold medallists at the national championships, except for the three of them, were chosen for the Worlds.

However, the case did not stand as the selections were made purely based on the new selection policy drafted by the new High-Performance Director, Bernard Dunne.

What's the talk about nations boycotting the event?

Several countries, including the likes of England, the United States, Ireland, Sweden and Ukraine are boycotting the event over the IBA's ruling to allow Russian and Belarusian boxers to compete under their own flag. The IBA's decision goes against the IOC's recommendations due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

This would also dilute the playing field as top athletes such as Ireland's Olympic champions Kellie Harrington [60kg] and Lauren Price [75kg] and reigning world champions Rashida Ellis [USA, 60kg], Amy Broadhurst [Ireland, 63kg] and Lisa O'Rourke [Ireland, 70kg] will all miss the event.

Where can I watch the IBA Women's World Boxing Championships?

The IBA Women's World Boxing Championships will be streamed live on the IBA Youtube channel. Alternatively, you can purchase tickets, starting at ₹99, here.