NAIROBI, September 6 – Kenya’s boxing team, nick-named the “Hit squad” was once one of the most feared teams in Africa.
Kenya’s Robert Napunyi Wangila was the first African boxer to win a gold medal in the welterweight division at the 1988 Olympic Games.
Earlier, Phillip Waruinge had won Kenya her first Olympic medal during the 1968 Mexico Games then he controversially lost in the semifinal. He also won a silver medal in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The men’s 1978 world amateur boxing championships were held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Kenya’s Stephen Muchoki won gold medal in light flyweight. He also a won silver medal in the same championships held in Havana, Cuba.
But the sport plummeted to new lows at the Beijing Olympics with none of the boxers making it past the first round.
Sydney 2000 Olympic games quarter finalist in light flyweight, Suleiman Bilali lost 9-3 to Winston Mendez-Montero of Dominican Republic; Nick Okoth lost 6-2 to Arturo Santos- Reyes of México; Bernard Ngumba was humbled 10-1 by Tulashboy Donoyorov of Uzbekistan and Aziz Ali was beaten 8-3 by Baram Muzzaffer of Turkey.
“All boxers in the camp had morale, but we were not exposed to the more established boxing countries. What we need to do now before 2012 is to play more international friendly matches,” Nick Okoth, who was beaten, yet again, told Capital Sport.
The performance of Kenyan boxers in the recent past has revealed declining standards that have made it difficult to win a single gold medal even in minor competition.
The local boxing committee has been struggling for role models at the elite amateur level and sponsors for equipment and local shows. Boxers in the country have to travel to get bouts and experience for national tournaments without any support.
The Amateur Boxing Association of Kenya (ABA) blamed Kenya’s poor performance in Beijing to bad preparations and officiating since the boxers were not exposed internationally.
The association argues that had the team prepared well and gotten more motivation, a good showing at the Olympics could have generated more interest in the sport locally.
Charles Gituma, the ABA Secretary General told Capital Sport: “Only 11 countries won medals out of 78 countries involved in boxing from 204 countries that participated in the Olympics. So if we had enough time to prepare and Nixon Abaka not injured we could have won a medal”.
Gituma maintains that the association has made efforts to restore the country’s past glory on the international scene but, admitted, with little success.
“We have set up a structure to manage and develop the game therefore we need to involve every one in boxing and the government should facilitate us”, he said.
Gituma stated that all stakeholders needed to come together and run boxing to greater heights in the country by offering support through professional development and technical assistance.
The association must however strive for excellence in amateur boxing development in the country. To achieve this, there must be a mission to provide world class amateur boxers through youth development programmes.
They must establish and sustain boxing clubs in the country and increase the number of boxers in the existing clubs to at least 20 boxers per club. If this is not done, the Kenya boxing team’s performance in Beijing may have an adverse effect at local gyms.
The riddle of computer scoring must also be addressed.
“The coaches knew about computer scoring boards and how results are given. There are good professional referees like Mwangi Muthoka who also informed us on computer scoring. Infact, I was just surprised to have lost the bout,” Okoth explains.
The ABA should however appoint former boxing stars like Sammy Mbugua and Steve Thiga on the technical bench to motivate and give skills to the boxers while in training.
“Boxing is still the same but with enough computers, trainers and match makers we will be able to shine again .There is more talent at the grass root which should also be recruited and nurtured.” Farouk Njagi who quit boxing noted.
The government and other corporate companies should also offer help in developing the sport in the country. They must be ready to put money in boxing and organise many tournaments as possible since it’s not a poor man’s sport.
“We need more than 20 associations in the country to run boxing. Companies should come forward to sponsor our boxers. The “Chafua Chafua” group has produced good boxers from the military and Administration Police, where Suleiman Bilali succeeded,” Okoth noted.
“Kimbo and Kenya Breweries no longer sponsor boxing but we need to revive all the fallen sponsors. We require good managers and banks to come in for the sport to be promoted,” Gituma said.
“Politicians and banks should organise matches locally and manage the boxers.Our boxers need more heading gears and gloves .The local gyms must also be facilitated”, said Okoth.