Let's make Ghana the hub of boxing in Africa

Author: Bernard Neequaye

Growing up in the late 1980s, boxing used to be the next most-talked-about sport in the country after football due to its success in the nation's sporting archives.

At the time, Ghana had boasted of its golden generation of boxers in David "Poison" Kotei, Azumah Nelson, Ike 'Bazooka' Quartey and Nana Yaw Konadu, who had conquered the world in their respective weight divisions.

Despite D.K. Poison paving the way as the nation's maiden world champion in 1975, Azumah became a household name in the country after dominating the featherweight and super featherweight divisions for over 11 years.

It was also in this era that Konadu and Quartey burst onto the scene as the hottest properties in the sport by becoming champions at the bantamweight and welterweight divisions respectively.

Ghana's dominance at the world stage in boxing was continued into the 2000s as Joseph Agbeko and Joshua Clottey restored the nation's image in the sport in 2007 and 2008 respectively when they took their opportunities at the time.

In a country where boxers lack basic facilities and financial assistance, a fighter with the dream of conquering the world usually faces a challenge of having to financially support himself to stardom.

A boxer who is supposed to concentrate on training and preparing for upcoming bouts resorts to looking for benefactors who are willing to support his craft due to the state's disinterest in according them financial support.

In the past, a  former Military ruler, Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, invested so much in D.K Poison which led to his success in the sport, winning the WBC featherweight world title in 1975.

Former President Jerry John Rawlings, a strong follower of boxing, saw Azumah’s climb to the top as a national project and decided that the state should assist him financially to achieve his goals in boxing, and that support propelled him to become arguably the best ever boxer to have come from Africa.

What I sought to say here is that, the state need to take up the financial burden of boxers right from amateur stages until they turn professional in order to reap the benefits later.

It is the responsibility of the country to ensure boxers have every facility needed to enhance their potentials which would intend put them through the best of amateur preparations for international competitions such as the African Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games.

Mere participants

It is a shame for Ghana, a country that takes pride in boxing on the African continent, to go for amateur competitions and fail to win laurels.
The situation has deteriorated so bad that we have turned to mere participants rather than winning medals which should be the target of every participating country.
For Team Ghana to win a single bronze medal in boxing at the 2015 African Games and to return empty-handed in 2019 is an indication that we have failed as a country to invest in the sport.
What successive governments have done is to prepare Team Ghana within a month to compete in such competitions, leaving these amateurs to their fate immediately after their participation. How can one attain honours with such preparations, especially when their opponents take years to get their team in shape.
This simply tells us as Ghanaians that we have lost it as a nation in our bid to support the growth of boxing in the country and have become underachievers by accepting our failure.

Innovations and Inventions

We need to emulate fellow African country Namibia which has invested so much into the sport that they are attaining higher heights by gradually becoming the hub of boxing on the continent.

The likes of Walter Kautodonkwa, Julius Indongo, Jafet Uutoni, Paulus Ambunda, Immanuel Naidjala and Sakaria Lukas are all making strides in the sport due to measures put in place by their government to see them attain greater heights.

There is a saying that "Necessity is the mother of invention" which translates that when the need for something becomes essential, one is forced to find ways of getting or achieving it.

In this case, it is up to us as a nation to adopt boxing as the sport to safeguard the nation's sporting dilemma by finding innovative ideas and support to get the sport back to where it belongs.

With football failing the nation despite series of outrageous investments by the state, won't it be prudent for the nation to try boxing  which has annexed several world titles without government's support over the years?

This, the Ghana Boxing Association (GBA), has been campaigning for over the years by asking the Ministry of Youth and Sports on behalf of government to consider investing in the sport in order to produce more world champions in the future.

A proper strategy of staging amateur bouts and  ensuring an effective camping of these boxers could kick-start a campaign towards a plan to take over the sport in Africa by making strides at the world stage.

However, boxing goes beyond just fighters with the likes of trainers and ring officials playing vital roles that need to be acknowledged through capacity building that would help enrich these boxers locally before they take on the world.

Peter Zwennes, president of the GBA, has lamented successive government neglect and was quoted by the Daily Graphic in 2017 as running the sport in the country from their pockets.

“We have a lot of projects at hand for our trainers, ring officials and boxers to upgrade their knowledge but we can’t do all these things because we are cash-trapped and we are handicapped.

"We don't make any money from purses but we run the association from our pockets. We the executives that are elected into office get only sanction fees from bouts which is very minimal and sometimes when we impose little fines but we are running the association from our pocket and that is why we are appealing to the government to come to our aid, and that is why we are also fighting for sponsorship," Mr Zwennes told the newspaper at the time.

Measures for success

Ghana currently boast a world champion in Richard Commey who holds the IBF lightweight crown with the nation chalking tremendous successes in the sport over the years.

Before Commey stopped Isa Chaniev in February to win the vacant IBF title, Isaac Dogboe had ended the nation's ten-year wait for a world title in April 2018 when he knocked out Jessie Magdaleno to snatch the WBO crown. He painfully lost the title in his second defence to Emanuel Navarrete in December 2018 and failed to recapture it in a rematch in May 2019.

Other fighters such as Maxwell Awuku and Rafael Mensah had both fought for world titles at some point but failed to take their chances due to poor preparation.

Currently, Commey, Dogboe, Duke Micah,  Patrick Allotey, Emmanuel "Gameboy" Tagoe and Wasiru "Gyatabi" Mohammed, among others, are all doing well in their respective divisions without any support from the state.

Allotey has a world title shot against Jaime Munguai on September 14 while Commey has a date with Teofimo Lopez on December 14 for his mandatory defence but the question remains whether government has imparted something into the careers of these boxers who  continue to raise the name of Ghana high at the world stage.

What we celebrate is success as a country but forget the basic needs to make one successful in his choice of endeavour, thereby leaving these fighters to their fate only to be rewarded by the state after becoming world champions.

How do we rule the continent in the sport with such lackadaisical attitude when in other jurisdictions, boxers enjoy financial support right from amateur days from their nations to equip them into becoming professionals.

If we are serious as a nation, we will take amateur boxing serious since that remains the backbone of the sport in every country and the financial neglect of this had led to fighters turning professionals unprepared in a bid to earn purses for themselves.

A former WBA welterweight world champion, Ike "Bazooka Quartey, once questioned the state's commitment to winning world titles and stated that the nation could only revive its golden generational days if amateur boxing was revived with a sense of urgency.

Quartey had made himself available to bring his rich expertise to bear towards the revival of amateur boxing which he said contributed immensely to their dominance at the world stage during their hey days in the sport.

"I’m prepared to contribute my expertise and experience freely if the state is willing to listen to me and make boxing a national sport instead of concentrating only in the Greater Accra Region.

"In our time, amateur boxing was very active and that really got us to where we got to and I think the government must be prepared to invest in that area so as to reap the benefits of seeing the nation achieve world titles," he told the Graphic Sports last year.

To my knowledge, all the countries dominating in the sport of boxing such as the United States of America, Mexico, Ukraine, Puerto Rico and Kazakhstan, among others, have active amateur teams which are prepared to rule the world after winning medals at world championships, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games before turning professionals with vast experience.

Over here, amateur boxers turn professional without even competing at any of these international competitions, and end up giving up their careers and turning into sparring partners.

It is time to correct the wrongs as a country by making our intent in boxing clear, with the onus lying in the hands of the state to stay committed to financially equip our amateur system which can only kick-start the campaign to make boxing great again.