Woman boxing champion brings hope to impoverished Sri Lankan province

Special Woman boxing champion brings hope to impoverished Sri Lankan province
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Inthugathevi Kanesh poses with Sri Lanka's flag during the Pakistan vs Sri Lanka Savate Kickboxing Championship in Lahore on Jan. 18, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Foundation of Goodness)
Special Woman boxing champion brings hope to impoverished Sri Lankan province
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Inthugathevi Kanesh with her mother at their home in Puthiyanagar, Mullaitivu, in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. (Photo courtesy: Inthugathevi Kanesh)
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Updated 07 February 2022

Woman boxing champion brings hope to impoverished Sri Lankan province

Woman boxing champion brings hope to impoverished Sri Lankan province
  • Inthugathevi Kanesh comes from Mullaitivu, a region affected by three decades of civil war
  • Young athlete now sets her sight on Asian Games

COLOMBO: When Inthugathevi Kanesh won gold at an international kickboxing tournament in Pakistan last month, she became a beacon of hope across Sri Lanka and especially in her home Mullaitivu, an impoverished and forgotten region of the Northern Province.

The 23-year-old athlete’s victory at her first international tournament has come to symbolize what talented youth from disadvantaged communities are capable of when given a chance.

Kanesh’s father, a vegetable seller, died in a train accident before she was born. Needing to provide for the family, her mother went to the Middle East to work as a housemaid, leaving Kanesh and her brother for 12 years in the care of their grandparents in Puthiyanagar, a remote, impoverished village in Mullaitivu.

Until a little over a decade ago, the region was the theater of an intermittent insurgency that started in the early 1980s with the Tamil Tigers fighting to create an independent state in the northeastern part of the island nation.

Three decades of civil war have brought to the country’s north socioeconomic issues unique and more pronounced than in the rest of the country.

Kanesh’s village, home to some 80 families, is still barely connected to electricity, has no running water and has only one bus connecting it to other villages. It was chance that directed the young woman to a sports career.

“In 2019, my A-level year in school, the sports ministry came here and held a coaching camp and selected me,” Kanesh told Arab News.

She had only started training to box two years earlier, despite cultural constraints.

“I faced lots of gender-related problems,” she said. “Girls going alone is an issue in our culture and in this community. In the beginning, mother was also against me going for training.”

But determination and hard work paid off with national recognition, including a gold medal and the Best Boxer Award at the 2019 Junior National Boxing Championship held by the Boxing Association of Sri Lanka.

International success came soon when she could completely focus on training with a scholarship from the Foundation of Goodness, which noticed Kanesh last year.

“She has talent and the skills,” R. Edward Edin, who heads the foundation’s developmental projects in Sri Lanka’s north, told Arab News. “If she gets the guidance and support she needs, she can achieve her dreams.

“We offered her a one-time scholarship to pursue her passion.”

The foundation also sponsored Kanesh’s trip to the tournament in Pakistan’s Lahore, where on Jan. 18 she won gold in the 50-55 kg category in her age group at the Pakistan vs Sri Lanka Savate Kickboxing Championship.

After the victory, the young athlete returned home, some 300 km from the capital Colombo, where pursuing her career is likely to involve future financial, logistical and cultural challenges. Yet she is not deterred and has already mapped out her future.

Growing up, Kanesh had wanted to become a teacher. Now, she said she knows she would eventually coach young athletes from her region.

But before all that, she will try to make her dreams come true — for herself and her country.

“First, I want to go for the Asian Games,” she said. “And after that, the Olympics.”