44-year-old city resident becomes first female boxing official in India to pass IBA exam

On Thursday morning, as 44-year-old Dr Sonia Kanwar Jarial got the International Boxing Association (IBA) email about her passing the IBA 3 star referee and judge examination, the former judo and boxer told her husband Rajiv Jarial and children Naisha Jarial and Virajveer Jarial about the feat.

Dr. Sonia’s passing of the examination conducted by IBA at Maribor, Slovenia, last month meant that the Chandigarh referee became the first female boxing official in India to pass the exam and eligible to referee in world championships as well as Olympics.

“It has been a long journey for me as a referee in boxing. It has been a long wait for me since taking the exam in Slovenia about the result. Both my children are always excited to see me officiate in national as well as international competitions and they too were awaiting the result along with my husband. To pass the exam and become the first Indian women referee to achieve the 3 Star IBA rating is a special moment for the whole family,” said Jarial, who is working as an assistant professor at Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, Sector 26.

With her father working in HMT, Pinjore, Dr Sonia grew up in Chandigarh and would opt for judo at the Judo Training Hall in Sector 23. She became the All India Inter-University judo champion for three successive years in the late 1990s before she opted for boxing. Although she competed in boxing at the state level only, it was her interest in becoming a judge and referee in the sport which led to her taking the then Indian Boxing Federation exams for the role.

In 2004, Dr. Sonia cleared the 1 Star IBA rating for referee and judges and officiated in the Asian Women’s Boxing Championship in Mongolia. The last 18 years have seen Dr Sonia officiating in 2008 Asian Women Championships, 2018 Strandja Cup, 2019 Australian open Boxing Championship, 2021 Asian Youth and Junior Championship and 2022 Elorda Cup apart from officiating in various nationals and CWG and Asian Games trials for the Indian team.

“When I initially started as a boxer, I would also watch the boxers train during practice at the Sector 23 hall. My interest in being a referee and judge grew and I passed the IBF judge exam first before clearing the IBF referee judge. While I obtained the IBA 1 Star in 2004 and 2 Star rating in 2018, officiating at the international level gave me the necessary exposure. Initially, I too made some mistakes as the reflex system was not fast. As a referee, our main concern is the safety of the boxers. While men boxers are usually more aggressive compared to women boxers, they are also prone to more head injuries or cuts. So we have to take care of that aspect too apart from the rules and conduct of the bout,” said Dr. Sonia.

Dr. Sonia has also officiated in Khelo India Youth Games recently. Over the last 18 years, she has officiated in international bouts involving 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist and six-time world champion Mary Kom apart from the current world champion Nikhat Zareen. Although a referee is to be neutral, Dr. Sonia’s favorite boxer has been Kom.

“As a referee, each day is a new challenge for us as we have to update ourselves with the new rules as well as the laws of the game. Boxing has changed a lot in recent years with the new rules and scoring system, and we have to update. Early in my career, I got the opportunity to be a referee in Asian Championships where boxers like Mary Kom and L Sarita Devi won. In the later years, I also officiated in bouts involving the current world champion Nikhat Zareen. But my favorite boxer has been Mary Kom. She has been the trendsetter for Indian boxing,” said Dr. Sonia.

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