NEW DELHI: Indian boxer Sarita Devi was banned for one year from the sport Wednesday for refusing to accept her bronze medal at the Asian Games in an extraordinary protest against judging decisions.
The International Boxing Association (AIBA) barred Devi from competitions until October 1, 2015 and issued a fine of 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,038) over the outburst on the podium at the games.
Devi “is suspended from any activity at the national, confederation and international levels”, the AIBA decision said.
Devi, 29, who controversially lost after appearing to dominate her lightweight (60kg) Asiad semi-final bout against South Korean boxer Park Ji-Na in Incheon, tearfully refused to accept the bronze during the medal ceremony.
On the podium, Devi twice rejected the medal before hanging it around the neck of her stunned Korean opponent who took silver. Devi later issued an “unconditional apology” to the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) for her behavior.
The contentious defeat a day earlier had sparked ugly scenes and scuffles as Devi’s enraged husband tried to lead a protest, resulting in him launching an expletive-filled rant at officials.
Devi said Wednesday she was relieved by the year-long ban which still gives her a chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I am very happy for the support extended by the whole country,” Devi told the CNN-IBN channel. “I have a chance to qualify for the Olympics and I will try my best to make it.”
India’s long-time Cuban coach B.I. Fernandez was handed a two-year ban and fined 2,000 Swiss francs for supporting Devi during her protest, Boxing India chief Sandeep Jajodia said, quoting the AIBA decision.
“There was apprehension that Sarita would be banned for life but Boxing India worked to get relief for her, trying to impress on AIBA that Sarita is disciplined,” Jajodia told reporters in New Delhi.
“The one-off incident was an emotional outburst. But we have to appreciate that the international body works under some rules.”
There were protests over a number of judging decisions in favour of home boxers during the Games, which were held in the South Korean city in September-October.
The Incheon organizing committee complained about Devi’s behaviour at the time but also said it had written to AIBA calling on the governing body to “ensure fair play in competition”.
Indian sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal said he would urge the AIBA to revoke Devi’s ban.
“Sarita, who is one of the most talented sportspersons in India, comes from a very humble background and has risen high in her sport due to hard work, perseverance and talent,” Sonowal said in a statement.
“Banning her for one year at this juncture will have a demoralizing effect on her consistency and good performance in the arena.”
Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, himself a member of parliament, was among those who had requested the sports minister to intervene on Devi’s behalf.
Devi accepted the Asiad bronze medal last week, given to her by the Indian Olympic Association. AFP