I can’t see things getting better anytime soon: Vijender Singh

With restrictions on travelling and no sporting activity allowed, the 34-year-old Haryana boxer is spending time with his family in Delhi.

Vijender Singh
In June, it will be five years since Vijender Singh shocked the nation by turning professional and turning his back on the amateur boxing. Then, he was the most decorated Indian boxer ever with an Olympic bronze, a World Championship bronze and three Commonwealth Games medals, including two silvers. And he still is the most successful boxer that India has ever produced. His boxing success continued in the professional circuit too, where he is unbeaten in his 12 fights so far. His 13th fight, which was scheduled in May in the US, has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With restrictions on travelling and no sporting activity allowed, the 34-year-old Haryana boxer is spending time with his family in Delhi. He is keeping himself busy with daily workouts, media engagements, digital interactions and a lot of fun with his children.

The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist spoke to ET Sport about life in the times of social distancing, his professional career, politics and more. Excerpts from the interview:

How are you dealing with the current situation?
I am at home with my children, my wife and I am happy. I train a bit, watch TV and play video games.

I had a bout that was supposed to happen in May but it has been cancelled. And I don’t know when the next duel is because the situation in the US and the UK is very bad.

If this Coronavirus pandemic hadn’t struck the world, I would have been training in the UK and most likely making arrangements to go to the US at this time. But I am happy that I have got so much time with my family, I can see my kids growing up, relive my childhood with them, when they misbehave or fight with each other I scold them too. I am thankful to god that my family is safe.

(Vijender’s trainer Lee Beard is based in Manchester, UK and he is contracted with Hall of Famer Bob Arum’s US-based Top Rank Promotions.)

Have you ever spent so much time at home?
Yes, I have. When we were in the UK, for three-four years, I used to train in the morning and evening and spend rest of the time with my family only. But yes, it’s been a long time since we spent so much time, four-five months, together in India.

Is there a schedule that you are following to stay fit?
Yes. I have always loved conditioning workout without weights. It’s the easiest way to stay fit. A lot of people complain about not being able to go out for a run but I tell them you don’t need to go out. You must have stairs at your home. If you go up and down 10 times, you will sweat a lot. If not that, go for 100 burpees – (10 sets of 10 burpees) – that will give you enough workout for everything from legs to shoulders to core. So there are exercises that you can do at home and they don’t need much space or equipment. But you will have to motivate yourself. If you really want to train, I don’t think anyone can stop you.

How many times do you train every day?
I train once a day in the evening. The session is of between 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the combination of the exercises. Right now, I am not going 100 per cent. There is no need to do that. When the time comes, we will increase the intensity.

In the current circumstances, what are your worries?
My worry is people who aren’t taking this virus seriously, who think nothing is going to happen to them. But it can become a lot worse for everyone. We are a country of more than a billion people, and I can’t see things getting better anytime soon.

Regarding sports, I wish we could organise Olympics as per schedule, it would have been great. But you can’t do that in such circumstances.

Earlier, there was a lot of excitement in the people when they used to come to the stadiums to watch sports. I don’t think it will be the same in future. I also expect a significant fall in the number of spectators because there is a fear of contracting the virus and people are afraid of going to a crowded place. It will take long time to go away.

When do you think sports will be able to make a comeback?
It’s going to take time. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. This virus is going to take a lot of time to go away and then it will take even more time for fear to dissipate. I don’t think this year we will see any sport.

Main to poora saal he maan ke baitha hoon is ghar me ki bhaiya yeh to lamba chalega. (I am sitting at home believing that it will go on till the end of the year).

It’s been five years since you joined the pro-boxing circuit. How do you see your career so far?

I am very happy. I wish to get bigger fights going forward. I want to try for bigger league, bigger fights. This year we were hoping to try something different but now har ek cheez baaton me he rah gayi hai (but now all that remains is the talks).

What have been the highlights of your pro career so far?
Every single thing has been a highlight for us (laughs). Getting permission to leave India was also a big highlight, when the government tried to stop me was also a highlight, first fight was also a highlight, when I had my first fight in India that was also a big highlight. So every fight has been a highlight for us. Every fight was a different experience. We enjoyed a lot and we will enjoy all the upcoming fights, too. They say the time never comes back. So we must try to enjoy every moment, that’s the most beautiful thing.

Any particular fight that you enjoyed the most, that gave you most satisfaction?
My first fight when I turned professional. There were a lot of negative things being said about me at that time. Some used to say I am leaving my country for money. People like to see us selling ice cream in the streets and when they read the story they say ‘oh, what a shame. What a sad story’. But when you try to do something different, they try to drag you down saying you shouldn’t do this or you can’t do that. So that was my answer to those critics. I won that fight in the third round. That is special for me. A lot of people tweeted about me then. Salman (Khan) bhai, Amitabh (Bachchan) sahab, they all praised me. That was really special for me.

So you enjoyed proving the critics wrong?
Yeah. I mean I didn’t do anything wrong. You know that’s how the trolls are. They are all paid. And I said whatever I was learning, I would bring it to India. There are so many boxers in India. Those who don’t do well in amateur boxing, they can make a career in professional boxing. There are so many other young boxers who turned professional after me, they are doing well and earning good money.

What more do you want to achieve as a boxer?
They say I dream a lot. I also enjoy dreaming. If they are fulfilled it’s good, if not then they are just dreams. So there are a many more dreams. My grandmother used to say ‘never tell anyone about your dreams’. So I can’t tell you but yes I have big dreams. And as they get fulfilled, I will let you people know.

You are 34 and this year is likely to be lost to the novel coronavirus, as you also predicted. Is time running out for you to achieve your goal of winning the world title?
No, I feel I am still 23. When I went to the UK, I was already 28 and I was asked if I was late in entering the pro circuit. And I said the same thing. I won my Olympic medal at the age of 23 and that is stuck in my mind. My body reacts the same way it did when I was 23. There is a saying in Punjabi, ‘dil hona chahida jawan, umran wich ki rakhiya’ (your heart needs to be young, age doesn’t matter). How you think is how your body reacts. If you think you are old, you won’t be able to survive in the league.

What’s your advice for the young boxers who are confined to their homes and can’t train?
I would advise them to not step out of their homes, eat healthy, train at home with whatever you have because it’s not the time to go out. You don’t know who is carrying the virus. Don’t try to be brave. Just stay at home and be safe.

For motivation, you can read books about whoever you consider as your idol. These days everyone has access to google where you can search and read about anyone and anything. There is youtube and many other sources available where you can watch videos. So there are various ways to keep yourself busy and motivated. It’s up to an individual what motivates them.

Psychologists say that youngsters are more prone to making mistakes when they are not observed and these days they are on their own.
See, you have to mould yourself according to the situation. There is no choice right now but to stay at home. If you go out you can contract such a dangerous virus. If you want to be the best, you have to sacrifice some things and transform yourself into a more disciplined person. Don’t I feel like doing things for fun, go out and meet friends? So you have to make yourself understand that this thing is good for me and that thing is not. I don’t think this is a problem just with youngsters. Who wants to live such a restricted life? But we all need to make adjustments because this disease requires us to stay at home.

You are very active on social media these days.
Now everything is digital. So we are working on how we can create our space in the digital market. It involves fitness videos, motivational speeches, interacting with fans on facebook, twitter and other platforms. The future will be all about digital, I feel.

You have been tweeting a lot against the government’s response to the pandemic recently. You contested in the Lok Sabha elections too. Do you see yourself as a full time politician somewhere down the years?
I don’t want to be a politician but I want say things that I think are right. If something is wrong, I want to speak against it. I don’t want to be recognized as someone who speaks for a party. I want to call a spade a spade. That’s it.

Sportspersons usually stay away from making political statements. You risk turning some powerful people into your enemies.
Jo hoga so hoga (what will be will be). But people will remember that this guy said something and he was right. And if everyone started thinking like that, we wouldn’t have had bravehearts like Bhagat Singh.

Are you a part of any initiative to help people in these tough times?
I have tried to help whoever has come to ask for my help. I don’t believe in donating money to some fund. I help in my own way. I have arranged food material for some people, I have ensured that they get it at their doorsteps. I don’t organise langars (community kitchens) or go out to distribute food and then post pictures on social media. That’s not how I like to do it. That’s not something to advertise about. The god above is watching everything.

Recently, through our whatsapp group, we collected around Rs 7-8 lakh for (1998 Asian Games gold medallist) Dingko Singh’s (cancer) treatment in Delhi. The money was transferred directly into his account.
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