Brigadier (retd) Muralidharan Raja, former secretary general of now-disaffiliated IABF and a retired international referee and manager, said Dingko’s career was a ‘short burst’ that changed things for boxing in the country in more ways than one.
Raja, who now lives in Pune, first saw Dingko at the Inter-Services boxing meet in 1996, where the then teenager shocked Olympian Debendra Thapa.
“Thapa had just returned from the Atlanta Olympics and there was no doubt that he was going to win the title. Dingko was drawn with him in the first round and nobody was even bothered about watching it. The Olympian was on the floor within the first 15 seconds. He got up but was down again within a few seconds. Dingko was playing for the navy and went on to win the championships that year,” Raja told TOI.
Raja said the Manipur boxer was a force that needed attention at that time. “He was a temperamental boy and also very sensitive. At the same time, there was no other like him. I wish we had people in power who could understand him better. After making the cut to the Indian team, Dingko came into the limelight by winning the Asian gold, however, his career ended within a few years,” Raja said. “It was like a short burst of energy. Strong and powerful, but couldn’t stay for long,” he added.
“I feel Dingko was a little ahead of time. Had he been there after 2008, when boxing became a priority sport, he would have won many more medals,” he said.
Raja added that he was however happy that the federation stood behind the boxer even when the then government didn’t support him. “When he was selected for the Asiad team in 1998, the government didn’t clear his trip to Bangkok. They didn’t see him as a medal winner, so the federation went ahead by funding his trip. Unlike today, we didn’t have sponsors then. The federation stood behind him and we got to see a hero, who brought Indian boxing to centrestage,” he said.