As the year comes to an end, one of the questions many Kenya boxing enthusiasts are still asking is whether the once glamorous sport is headed in the right direction.
Confusion was the hallmark of a busy year that didn’t offer much to celebrate in the amateur ring.
To many fans, it was a year of total failure and neglect characterized by poor leadership, lack of planning, biased officiating and vicious power struggles.
And as if to add salt to injury, the “beautiful game” was marred by a match-fixing scandal with some of top officials deliberately tampering with the computer settings to manipulate the scoring system during one of the league contests.
Unlike in the past when the overall league winner was traditionally announced after the final leg of the competition, this year’s top contenders Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and Kenya Police, the latter popularly known as “Chafua,” will have to wait a little longer.
The Boxing Association of Kenya (BAK) has announced that the winner will be declared in a boardroom verdict after the end of the fifth leg in Kisumu County. “Chafua” clinched the final leg with 23 points while last year’s winner KDF and Kenya Prisons tied with 11 points each to finish in the runners-up position.
“The officials are going to sit in Nairobi to decide on whether this year we will have overall winner or not,” said Nakuru based Boxing Association of Kenya secretary general Isaac Mbote.
To boxing fans who have been keenly following the confusion at the helm of the sport, the announcement did not come as a big surprise.
The confusion manifested itself further and for the first time, the power struggle in the leadership reared its ugly head when the two warring camps exchanged bare knuckles in the open.
The climax of the raging confusion saw the two factions, each claiming to be bona fide office holders, going as far as organizing parallel leagues of the fourth leg.
This is the first time in the history of the sport that two legs of the national league were held simultaneously under two different leaderships.
One faction led by outgoing Boxing Association of Kenya President John Kameta held its matches in Mwingi in Kitui County and another spearheaded by secretary general Isaac Mbote staged its contest at Kakamega County.
The match fixing fiasco by some of the seasoned officials showed the dearth of the sport whose lovers are dwindling by the day thanks to a clueless leadership at the helm of the sport.
The once popular “Hit Squad” has been reduce into a punching bag in international assignments.
The sport once regarded as a top medal prospect after athletics in international competitions such as Olympic Games, All African Games and Commonwealth Games, among others, is struggling to make the semi-finals.
Kenya’s dismal performance at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, in March-April showed that the country’s future in international ring is becoming dimmer by the day.
Kenya did not clinch a gold medal and this was a wake-up call for the country to invest more in coaching at the grassroots levels.
The last time “Hit Squad” won gold medals at the “Club” games was in 1994 at the Victoria Games in Canada through Abdulrahman Ramadhan (light fly) and Ahmed Omar Kasongo (heavyweight).
Kenya was represented by seven men and three women fighters in the 21st edition of the games in Gold Coast.
The men’s squad had Shaffi Bakari (light fly), Brian Agina (fly) Benson Gicharu (bantam), Nick Okoth (lightweight), Edwin Okon’go (middle), Nick Abaka (light heavy) and Ely Ajowi (heavy).
The three women were Christine Ongare (flyweight), Lorna Kusa Simbi (welterweight) and Elizabeth Andiego (middle). Interestingly, it was the often-neglected women’s boxing – that continued to suffer under the poor leadership of BAK – that salvaged the image of Kenya at the Gold Coast games when 24-year-old Ongare won a bronze medal.
All the other nine boxers were pounded off the ring in the preliminary stages and this was another big wake up call for BAK to rethink its strategy in the management of the women boxing in Kenya.
Many of the women boxers have in the past complained of lack of local exposure as there are no women boxers in most of the teams participating in the national league. Ongare’s medal win was a clear indication that given support women boxing in Kenya could match their international opponents.
At the local scene, many women want to compete but due to lack of financial support from the Ministry of Sports and Heritage, along with BAK’s nonchalance, many clubs have shied away from recruiting women boxers.
“I want to encourage more women boxers to climb onto the ring but when they train and there is no league for women, it is a waste of resources and energy,” said veteran Nakuru Amateur Boxing club head coach Mwangi “Carlos” Muthee.
Ongare’s medal drew more interest in women boxing and it means if well supported it can attract just as much interest as men. However, many women on the ringside wishing to join the sport have no role models thanks to the neglect of the sport.
Meanwhile, Kenya failed to send fighters to the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) women’s world championships in New Delhi.
This would have offered good exposure for the women boxers that could have seen them improve on their fighting skills. Apart from women, youth boxing seems not to be on the top agenda as Kenya selectively participates in youth tournaments.
Other critical technical areas that are lagging include coaching, refereeing and judging where officials rarely attend international refresher courses.
On the eve of the start of qualification for the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo, the eagerly awaited January 3 BAK elections may as well give a clear indication on whether the boxing mess that dominated 2018 will continue, or if the sport will get a much-needed kiss of life.