Vanguard (Lagos)

11 December 2012

Nigeria: Boxing Lived up to Its Thrills and Controversies

Although the boxing event of the 18th National Sports Festival (NSF) ended on Dec. 7, the sport provided some memorable showdowns that will dominate national discourse for some time to come, as Nigerians appraise the just-concluded biennial Games.

The event featured many colourful boxers from various states across the federation, particularly Apampa Muri from Borno and Gabriel Francis of Lagos.

Apampa won most of his bouts via knock outs until the finals, where he lost his match to Ademola Najeem of Ogun in a tough encounter that lived up to its top rating.

Francis, on the other hand, another tough fighter, who was quick with his deadly punches, never dropped his guard until he settled for the ultimate prize - the gold medal.

In all, however,LagosStateboxers proved hard nuts to crack as they remained the team to beat as the team notched up eight gold medals in both the men and women's categories, at the finals.

Ogun was adjudged the second best toLagosafter winning seven gold and two silver medals, to stamp their strength and technical prowess in the competition.

Above all, some of the bouts were, however, hit by brick bats of controversies as spectators and team officials expressed disappointment at some 'controversial' decisions of some judges in the course of the competition.

Looking back at the competition, Hakeem Idris, a spectator, expressed his displeasure at some of the final decisions, saying that some of the decisions could not have been the true reflection of what the outcomes of the bouts actually were.

"It is sad that an event like this can be marred by questionable decisions. Some of the bouts were indeed thrilling, no doubt, but the balance of fair play was largely missing in some of the bouts," he said.

Obinna Eze, a fan of Team Abia, expressed disappointment with the judges following Abia's Okebugwu Flora's 1-2 loss to Olaniyi Bola of Ogun, in one of the most controversial women's bouts.

"This is a major event - a festival. We can't keep on allowing such things happen haphazardly and claim we want to get it right at the Olympics. Flora clearly won and everyone knew it," he said.

However, Abiodun Obanla, Head Coach fromOndoState, described the officiating generally as fair, but noted that as humans, "errors are inevitable in Games of this magnitude, where passion can sometimes come into play".

The coach, who is also a referee, admitted that although some decisions were not right, they were mistakes that were bound to happen sometimes in boxing.

"In my opinion, it is unfortunate that not everybody will want to accept such costly errors at such crucial stages, given what was at stake - a gold, a silver and a bronze, plus some cash rewards (in some states).

"Sometimes it can be a lack of concentration of the part of judges. It can be a result of poor knowledge by the referees or even that of an athlete.

"But these mistakes can sometimes prove costly. Some decisions were not right but these are some of the errors that come with officiating; they're not intentional," he explained.

Aside from the flaws and controversies that dogged the officiating, many of the men and women's boxing bouts were without doubt thrilling, raising hopes about the future of the sport, particularly at the amateur level.

The fierce and fearless displays, the gusts and thrills of boxers kissing the canvas, as well as the drama of throwing in the towel from corner men turned out to be the high points of some of the bouts.

In the end, a total of 20 gold medals were won in both the men and women's categories of boxing at the festival.

It is only time that will tell if the efforts, time and money spent in staging the Games had been worth it.

Perhaps, if by the 2016 Games inRio de Janeiro, the country is able to have boxers who would survive the Games, then may we better appreciate investments in the sector.

However, attention, from now on would be focused on preparations toward the 19th edition of the festival, tagged "Paradise Games," to be hosted byCrossRiverStatein 2014

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