At the end of a fortnight that seemed dull and bleak at the start, came in Dingko Singh, like a saviour to lift the spirits of the crestfallen Indian sports fans. Very few might have imagined India’s boxing glory since the 1986 edition. The nation’s most volatile pugilist as they say and the one most feared, Ngangom Dingko Singh had brought laurels to the country by clinching a Gold in the 54kg Bantamweight category of the 1998 Asian Games. He had ended India’s 16 year wait for an Asian Games boxing victory. The fame Dingko Singh received after this feat knew no bounds. But it soon withered away.
It is rare that we see an Indian athlete creating a wave of enthusiastic admiration, a craze, only to fade away into oblivion after a certain time. Same was the case with Dingko Singh. Talk about him and a majority of the people will have no idea about this great athlete and his achievements. So, let us learn a few things about this champion, after all he was the one who spurred the rise of the sport in his home state of Manipur and inspired present-day legends like Mary Kom.
A Difficult Start
Born on 1st January 1979 in a remote village called Sekta in the Imphal East District, Manipur to a very poor family, Dingko never had the luxuries of a high protein or a properly calibrated diet that athletes are made to follow these days. Nor was it milk and meat. He used to make do with a meagre meal comprising of some rice, daal and curry while staying in an orphanage. His only forte was his thirst for success. The lack of facilities and proper training did not deter him from gaining prowess in his field of interest.
The Special Area Games Scheme (SAG) started by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) which aims at scouting natural talent from remote areas of the country identified Dingko’s calibre. He was under the special surveillance of Major O P Bhatia, the present Executive Director of the Teams Wing in the Sports Authority of India. Here on, Dingko Singh was on the march to establish himself as a super talented boxer in the country.
He came to the limelight when he won the Sub-Junior National Boxing title in 1989 at Ambala at the age of 10. This was when the authorities and coaches started training him for a professional career in boxing.
His next major achievement was when he won the King’s Cup in Thailand in 1997. Apart from this, he was also declared as the Best Boxer of the meet.
Dingko’s journey to the much-awaited gold was quite controversial. His name was scrapped from the squad for Indian Boxing at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games for unknown reasons. Following this, he went binge drinking, but eventually was selected at the last minute and silenced his critics by punching his way to the Gold. He had defeated the number three ranked boxer in the world, Timur Tulyakov of Uzbekistan in the final and won the hearts of many. “Luck too had a big role to play in it (winning the gold), and I thank God for this success,” he said. This tournament had blessed India with the best medal tally so far.
Dingko’s success had started a revolution of sorts in Manipur. Many aspiring young athletes from the North-Eastern states had started considering sports as a career. They wanted to do for the country what Dingko had done. Dingko Singh had become their role model. He had become an inspiration.
His next goal was to win medals at the forthcoming National Games to be held in Imphal (from February 14 to 25) and at the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000. However, luck did not favour him this time, and he had to leave his dreams behind due to a fracture and retire from the game permanently. After this, Dingko Singh served in the Indian Navy and is now a Boxing coach with the Sports Authority of India in Imphal.
For his excellence in the sport of boxing, he was awarded the prestigious Arjuna Award in 1998 and Padma Shri in 2013. He was also provided with a government job and a small apartment in Imphal.
His current Bout with Life
Life did not stop being cruel to this National Hero. In a shocking and saddening turn of events, it is reported that Dingko Singh has been diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He is now battling liver cancer. The 38-year-old Manipuri underwent a surgery in the first week of January during which almost 70 percent of his liver had to be removed. It all started with him being a victim of jaundice in August 2016. The doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Science in New Delhi concluded that the cancer had reached an advanced stage but there are chances of recovery. Here’s what Dingko’s doctor, who believes that he will be fit to resume coaching in a few months after completing his chemotherapy cycle, had to say, ” He was very fit. He recovered really well. But there are always chances of recurrences, but we can’t say anything for certain.”
Dingko Singh, however, faced severe financial crunch. To manage his medical expenses the former Navy man was forced to sell his house. “Selling the house was the only option. It was a difficult call to make,” he says with a hint of regret. “We have already spent Rs 10 lakh so far and are really worried how we will manage the money for treatment. We definitely need help,” Dingko’s wife, Babai, says. It’s a very difficult phase for the family but Babai is trying to stay strong and control her emotions. The couple is currently staying at a friend’s place in a tiny apartment in Shahpur Jat locality in New Delhi, leaving their kids in a boarding house in Imphal. His chemotherapy will start soon.
It was only after all this that the gold medallist’s plight came to picture. The Government has now provided initial financial help to cover his medical expenses and will take care of all his needs. “Dingko Singh has been provided initial financial aid & he has been assured that whatever his needs are will be taken care of,” tweeted Vijay Goel, the sports minister of India. “Dingko is also a #SAI coach in Imphal. DG @Media_SAI visited him & promised him all possible help. We pray for his speedy recovery,” he added. He has also received Rs 50,000 as an advance from the Sports Authority of India and about Rs. 45,000 from the Boxing Federation of India. Since Singh is a government employee, part of the cost of his surgery and hospitalisation at the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in New Delhi will be reimbursed under the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS).
He is receiving a lot of support from the people as well. They are ready to stand up and lend a helping hand to this national hero. “We must take care of our champions just as they make us proud,” tweeted Gautam Gambhir. They are praying for his recovery. Well-wishers have expressed their grief. There are many who want to willingly provide financial aid. “He trained me for a long time before the Incheon Asian Games in 2014. I will try my best to organise some money for his treatment,” said Sarita Devi, who is his student and a prominent female boxer.
Dingko, on the other hand, is positive about his recovery. ““I dream of training the kids in my village again. I have a belief I will get cured and go back to my village to resume coaching,” he says.
We wish him a speedy recovery and hope that he can fulfil his dream of nurturing more world-class boxers.
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