As the new year begins, boxing fans can only expect changes in the sport.
Last year, action moved from the ring to boardrooms, where officials jostling for positions went for each other’s neck, drawing in both the Kenya National Sports Council (KNSC) and the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOCK) who came in as referees and judges.
The wrangles that started in 2011 between a group led by former chairman of the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) of Kenya Samson Mugacha on one side and another spearheaded by John Kameta, then his senior vice-chairman.
The wrangles affected Kenya’s preparations for the London Olympics and the country only sent one male boxer, fly-weight Benson Gicharu of Kenya Police Amateur Boxing Association’s ‘Chafua Chafua’ team. Gicharu was eliminated in the preliminary rounds.
Female light heavy-weight boxer, Elizabeth Adhiambo also won a wild card to participate in the Games and left in the preliminary round.
Gicharu made it to London through an International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) African Olympic qualifying event in Casablanca, Morocco on October 2011. At the time, the writing was already on the wall for all to see.
All Africa Games
A month earlier, welter weight bronze medalist Rayton Okwiri was the only pugilist who reached the semi-finals of the All Africa Games in Maputo.
The KNSC failed to pacify the two camps. NOCK also offered no help.
Mugacha and some of his executive committee members became unpopular after coming up with a policy barring referees and judges from being ABA officials at the same time. It was only coaches who could also become the association’s executive committee members.
Mugacha left the association and the Nairobi branch of the ABA where Mugacha was chairman saw the national body shift boxing action from the capital city.
Fly-weigh Matayo Keya, a promising Nairobi-based boxer light, one of the stylish pugilists in the country today, missed the trials of both the All African Games in Maputo and the African Olympic qualifiers in Casablanca.
The year also ended in a sad note with the demise of super heavy-weight Chrispin Odera who won gold for Kenya in the 1987 fourth All Africa Games in Nairobi.
Odera died of kidney failure in a Germany Hospital, according to his younger brother, Tudor Claxon. Odera’s body was brought home and buried in Nakuru.
Some of Kenya’s eight gold medalists in the 1987 Games were the late welter-weight Robert Napunyi Wangila, who made history in the 1988 Seoul Olympics by winning Africa her first gold medal in boxing, Stephen Mwema, light fly-weight Maurice Maina, feather-weight Patrick ‘Mont’ Waweru, light-weight John Wanjau, light welter-weight David ‘DK’ Wanjau and middle-weight Mohammed ‘Body’ Orungi.
That was the best performance for Kenya in the All African Games. The sport took a nosedive with the introduction of a new format of the national league in late 1990s where all boxers assembled in one venue for about three days.
Previously, the league was held on home and away basis where boxers from various clubs battled for the prestigious Yamashita trophy. The boxers were kept on their toes all the year round.
At the time, Kenya’s national boxing team, ‘Hit Squad’ reigned supreme in Africa and the Commonwealth Games. National events, novices, intermediate and national championships were taken seriously. Back then, associations affiliated to the ABA were the only ones allowed to field boxers in national events.
That is no longer the case. A Nairobi-based club was permitted to take part during the recent Kenya Open Championships in Nakuru. It is doubtful whether members of the team had gone through the novices, which could endanger their lives, boxing being a combat game.
Even though boxing wrangles appears to have subsided, the warring parties should emulate boxers who shake hands after fighting three grueling rounds to have lasting peace. They should take the game back to boxing rings.