Boxing, once a glamour sport in Kenya, is on the path to regaining its lost glory in continental arena after the national team redeemed its image in the African Games in Morocco.
The national team, popularly known as “Hit Squad”, put out one of their best performance to win five medals.
Members of the “Hit Squad” who boxed their way to the podium were Kenya Police's Shafi Bakari (flyweight), who won a silver medal, Ely Ajowi (heavyweight), George Cosby Ouma (middleweight), Boniface Mugunde (welterweight), Fredrick Ramogi (superheavyweight) who returned home with bronze.
In the 2015 African Games in Brazzaville, Congo, Kenya clinched only two bronze medals through Nick Okoth and Ajowi.
While men posted improved results, the women team comprising Christine Ongare (flyweight), Elizabeth Andiego (middle), Lorna Kusa (welterweight) and Everlyne Akinyi (lightweight) did not win any medal exposing the poor standards of the women’s game in Kenya.
All the Kenyan women boxers were knocked out of the competition in the first round.
“We hope our women boxers will improve in the next competition as they have now been exposed to continental competition,” says Boxing Federation of Kenya competition secretary John Waweru.
The Morocco lift up gave the “Hit Squad” high hopes of doing well in the first 2020 Tokyo Olympic qualifiers set to be held in Senegal from February 15 to March 1.
The second Olympic qualifier will be held in Paris, France from May 13 to 25 and Kenya will be represented by eight men and five women boxers.
In the national league, the firing Kenya Police also know as “Chafua Chafua” clinched the league after winning all the legs in Nakuru, Kisumu, Nanyuki, Busia and Mombasa.
The policemen popped the champagne thrice as their head coach David Munuhe was voted the Coach of the Year while Bakari was voted the Boxer of the Year.
Martin Oduor (bantamweight) also from Kenya Police was named as the Most Disciplined Boxer.
The best referee cum judge of the year was Steve Ndung’u from Ndenderu in Kiambu County.
Unlike in the past when the judges and referees gave controversial verdicts, this year the men in white were fair in their decisions which is a clear indication the standards of officiating was improving steadily.
“This year the judges and referees made the right decisions and that is a big plus as in the past they have been blamed for biased officiating,” said Waweru.
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The judges and referees fairness was evident in the Nanyuki competition when Ajowi was clobbered by Joshua Wasike of Kibra in a match that saw one of the most balanced decision made by the judges and referees.
This year the management of the league has improved as 14 counties participated in the competition.
The league attracted new entrants such as Busia County which produced two promising boxers in Cyrus Wandera in (bantamweight) and Wanende Hassan in the lightweight category.
The sterling performance of pugilists from little known boxing regions such as Busia is attributed to the launch of boxing at the grass roots.
Other counties which were making their maiden appearance in the top flight boxing league were Kakamega, Vihiga, Siaya, Trans Nzoia and Murang’a counties.
This year, the number of women boxers participating in the league doubled to 10 unlike in the past when only two or three boxers were featuring in the competition.
The federation has been urging clubs at the counties to recruit more boxers in a bid to attract other upcoming women boxers.
In 2012 Olympic qualifiers in China, Kenya was supposed to be represented by a full team but the country managed to send a team of six women fighters.
The most promising women boxer of the year was Alice Wayiego (bantamweight) from Nairobi.
The stylish Wayiego did not miss a single competition in the gruelling league and when she climbed the ring she did not disappoint as she dazzled her opponents with stinging blows that saw her win bouts with unanimous points decisions.
In a bid to take the game to all the 47 counties, the federation launched a campaign at the counties urging their members to comply with the Sports Act.
“The federation is keen on taking boxing to grass roots and we have started a conversation with the counties to ensure they comply with the Sports Act and form a boxing team,” said Isaac Mbote.
Mbote, who is the first vice chairman of the federation, attributed the improved standards to a new team of officials at the helm who are determined to transform the game.
However, the new boxing leadership has not secured sponsorship and must look for potential sponsors instead of relying on individual to bail the teams out in the domestic league.
Kenya Police, Kenya Defence Forces and Kenya Prisons are the only teams with sponsorship in the national league while the rest of the 18 clubs were sponsored by an individuals.
The “Hit Squad” will start residential camp in January for the Olympic qualifiers.