5 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Time to Heal Boxing Wounds

"YOU are invited to attend an all stakeholders meeting at Raylton on 5 January at 1000hrs. Your input is greatly appreciated as we seek ways of re-organising our boxing. Advise others."

This is the brief text message we received in the evening of Thursday, December 27, from one Thomas Kambuyi, a boxing trainer from Epworth.

We did not need the services of a soothsayer to inform us that tens of other followers of the sport had received a similar invite to the convergence, where we presume the "owners" of the sport will put their heads together to calm the storm that has rocked the boxing boat for quite a while.

Inasfar as we can recall, this is the first time a meeting of this nature has been convened, bringing together promoters, managers, boxers, referees, judges, cornermen and in our case, sports journalists (the meeting will now be held at David Livingstone Primary School in Harare today).

The question we may, however, not quickly find an answer to is why it had to take this long for these stakeholders to organise themselves in this manner to save a discipline on whose existence some of their livelihoods are formed. Was it a case of who will tie the bell around the cat's neck?

The recent announcement by the Minister of Education, Arts, Sport and Culture, David Coltart, that he had used his "ministerial powers" to dissolve the Richard Hondo-led Board of Boxing Control may have come as sweet music to the ears of many.

It is high time new brooms were brought in to sweep the corridors of local professional boxing as a replacement to the old ones that have led the sport to its highs and, of-course, all-time lows from as early as 1980, many may concur.

There is no need to express any grudges against the retired board, no. In fact, after an eventful three-decade period of leadership that gave birth to a legion of regional and international champions, it would only be fair to give credit to Hondo and his team for a job well done.

And when they themselves look back at the abysmal passages of time, they, too, must be able to see something to beat their breasts about. Fact -- all said and done, the last 30 years were an arduous journey, filled with a whole cocktail of challenges.

Many people from boxing harbour a lot of respect for Hondo who, despite his ever-busy schedule at his full-time place of employment, always had time to give a hand whenever there were challenges, especially in the areas of international tournament organisation.

He is one man who possesses abundant reserves of energy, cheerfulness and commitment to the sport of boxing. For that, the boxing family will always remain indebted to him.

He qualifies to have his name included in the Boxing Hall of Fame in Zimbabwe and, further to that, deserves to have, at least, an annual tournament organised to his tribute.

That booming, cheerful voice will surely be missed by many people, including journalists, who never had any difficulties extracting a comment from him.

Now back to the present.

Recent press reports have been to the effect that stakeholders want to recommend people whom they want to make the new board and, supposedly, these include those that have at one time in their lives thrown punches in the ring.

A very logical submission indeed that would make the late Gilbert "Giro" Josamu smile in his grave as he was always crusading for the inclusion of former boxers in the board.

Fair and fine as it may be, the question now would be: Do we have a good number of these candidates who are blessed with physical, academic and administrative skills to take us to the promised land?

Without sounding sarcastic or provocative, it is a just matter of looking at the prevailing situation and prescribing the correct dosage so that we do not regret any new move that is made.

One hopes that as we chart the way forward, we are also going to learn from the past because it is what shapes the future.

And let us not have too much noise about positions from people who know they are not capable to deliver.

As we decide on candidates we want to see serving this beautiful sport, what needs to be considered is what they have achieved in their various backgrounds and this can only be proven by their resumes.

The proof of the pudding is only in the eating, period.

Having put in place a new board (either interim or substantive) there is great need to brand the boxing system as a way to exorcise the ghost that has haunted it for so long, as well as winning back the support and confidence of the corporate world.

This entails a new name (e.g Boxing Zimbabwe), a new logo and an announcement -through a launch ceremony -- that boxing now has a new face.

A look at the boxing letterhead today tells you wrestling is still part of the system when, in fact, the latter has long divorced itself from boxing.

An office is then established and communication lines put in place - letterheads, telephone lines, fax, e-mail, Facebook page, twitter, banners and even a website.

Meanwhile, boxers' records, which are said to be in a shambles, are updated and posted on the global site, Boxrec, so that any promoter in any part of the world can pick a relevant opponent by the mere click of the mouse.

It is also fact that Zimbabwean boxing cannot afford to live in isolation.

There is great need to affiliate to regional and international associations so as to derive benefits associated with this belonging.

The African Boxing Union, World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation are some of the bodies we can be a member to so that we expose our boxers to better opportunities through their fighting for elite titles under the afore-mentioned banners.

And through the same process, relations with other regional boxing boards are fostered to enhance the field of competition for our respective fighters.

Meanwhile, on the technical side of things, we need to have as many referees, judges and cornermen as we can train, and the pool from which to draw these is very wide.

There many retired boxers who are still of sound body and mind. We just cannot have a secretary of the board being one of the only four professional judges and referees around - it is grossly unethical!

There are two world-renowned boxing officials from South Africa who have expressed their desire to work with Zimbabwean boxing.

Alfred Bunqana has refereed and judged fights that featured, among other greats, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and the Klitchkos.

He is a recipient of the SA President's Award and in an interview from his Vilakazi Street home last year, he said he would jump onto the next plane available if called to give help.

The other is the WBO-Africa president, Andrew Smale, who says he is prepared to come at his own expense to help us put in place new structures.

What more assistance can one ask for?

In the same manner that the core business of the post office is mail, the postman naturally becomes its most critical employee. Similarly, it is the boxer whose role makes us talk about this sport. He is the goose that lays the golden egg, and so must be treated with respect. To win his spirit back, why not, for instance, waiver the 10% levy until such a time the sport is fully revived and is beginning to pay better?

Promoters on the other hand need an enabling environment if they are to part with their money and resources. Gone should be those days when the board blames inefficiency on a piece of legislature which is not made of steel but can simply be reviewed to suit specific needs.

Other factors for consideration for the new board include:

  • Establishment of a benevolent fund for boxers
  • Linking up with renowned Zimbabwean boxers who have made it abroad such as Dereck Chisora for possible further links
  • Resuscitation of boxing breeding places (Support Unit, ZNA, ZPS, Mines and, of-course, the popular Wafa-Wafa)
  • Setting of targets for promoters (at least three or so tournaments per promoter per year will not see us starved of fights)
  • Health education programmes for boxers
  • Ensuring AGMs are held annually and reports presented
  • Possible organisation of an Awards ceremony for boxers and technical people
  • Ensuring the element of professionalism is adopted and maintained both inside and outside the ring

While we all hope that a new era is eventually going to dawn on the sport of boxing in Zimbabwe, it is also our expectation that today's deliberations at David Livingstone Primary School (you may want to call it the David Livingstone Declaration) will bear fruit.

Also to look forward to is the hope that sooner, rather than later, a new crew to drive the sport is appointed so that the most important man in the whole puzzle - the boxer - can once again begin to spread butter on his bread. We wait with the patience of a monument.

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