Olympian and professional boxer Rayton Okwiri is the surprise inclusion in the provisional national men and women’s boxing team for the Africa qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Okwiri is among world’s professional boxers, who are likely to make a return to the Olympics, thanks to the change of rules by the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) back in 2016.
The rules have since been welcomed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who have encouraged sports federations to include their best athletes in their competitions, and the prospect of the like of Okwiri representing Kenya.
That can also see multi World Boxing Council (WBC) champion Manny Pacquiao representing the Philippines, former WBC heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko fighting for Ukraine or reigning and undefeated WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder battling for United States.
But the boxers will have to forfeit all the titles they have in case they are to go for Olympics.
The decision triggered a backlash from doctors, boxers like Mike Tyson and renowned promoters like Bob Arum, who argued that letting professionals box in the Olympics was dangerous, confusing and bad for business.
They want to maintain the status quo, or at least want to block what they view as an attempt by AIBA to take control of the sport.
However, the 33-year-old Okwiri, who is the Africa Boxing Union (ABU) middleweight champion and boasts a professional record of six wins and a draw (6-0-1), supports the AIBA and IOC move.
“We have been denied that chance and privileges that out sisters and brothers in golf, basketball, athletics, football among others have enjoyed over the years. They have competed in amateur and professional events winning money,” said Okwiri, who has an amateur record of 289-11-0.
Okwiri said he is ready to forfeit the ABU title for the sake of the country.
“I won the Africa qualifier for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and I still have what it takes to not only make Tokyo Olympics but win a medal for Kenya,” said Okwiri.
Okwiri was named in a squad of 27 boxers; 18 men and nine women for the Africa qualifiers slated for February 20-29 at the International Expo Centre, Diamniadio, Dakar, Senegal.
Head coach Benjamin Musa said the final squad will be named after a three-nation tournament involving Uganda and Tanzania at the end of January. The team will leave the country between February 15-17 to Dakar.
“We gladly welcome Okwiri back but he will have to prove his mettle against the rest,” said Musa, who has a bench of six coaches including his deputy David Munuhe.
Okwiri’s middleweight category has African Games bronze medallist George Cosby (Police) and Edwin Okongó (Kenya Defence Forces).
African Games silver medallist Shaffi Bakari (Police) and David Karanja make the flyweight category while African Game bronze medallist Boniface Mogunde (Police) is the only one picked in welterweight.
Another Africa Games bronze medallist Fredrick Ramogi and Tobias Okeyo make the super heavyweight team. Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Christine Ongare and Veronicah Mbithe form the flyweight team.
Flyweight: Shaffi Bakari, David Karanja
Featherweight: Martin Oduor, Nick Okoth
Lightweight: Ethan Maina, Joseph Shigali, Victor Odhiambo, Azaad Nazir
Welterweight: Boniface Mogunde
Middleweight: Rayton Okwiri, George Cosby, Ewin Okongó
Light heavyweight: Humphrey Ochieng, Hezron Maganga
Heavyweight: Elly Ajowi, Joshua Wasike
Super Heavyweight: Fredrick Ramogi, Tobias Okeyo
Flyweight: Chrstine Ongare, Veronicah Mbithe
Featherweight: Beatrice Akoth, Anne wanjiru
Lightweight: Everline Akinyi, Stacy Ayoma
Welterweight: Lorna Kusa
Middleweight: Elizabeth Andiego, Elizabeth Akinyi
Team manager: Chrispine Onyango
Head coach: Benjamin Musa, David Munuhe (deputy head coach, John Waweru, Lemmy Katibi, Julius Theuri, Charles Mukula (coaches)