7 February 2014

Zambia: Should Service Boxers Lose Jobs On Turning Pro?

DURING a Superior Milling-sponsored radio programme on Zambia National Broadcasting Services Radio 2 this past week, to hype up the March 15, upcoming double-header WBC title fights, Zambia Professional Boxing and Wrestling Control Board (ZPBWCB) chairperson, Nelson Sapi, paid glowing tribute to the late World Boxing Council (WBC) president Jose Sulaiman who died on January 16.

Sapi catalogued some of the transformational achievements the WBC scored under Sulaiman's leadership, such as institution of many new rules and regulations regarding boxers' safety and welfare.

Among the changes were the reduction of world championship bouts to 12 from a punishing 15 rounds and introduction of the attached thumb glove which stopped unscrupulous fighters from poking the thumb into their rivals' eyes.

During Sulaiman's tenure, the WBC sanctioned over 1,100 title bouts and 300 boxers have won world titles. Truly a worldwide organisation, Sulaiman expanded the WBC's global reach to now include 161 affiliated nations.

Sulaiman, of Lebanese and native American descent, was simply a colossus who galvanised the sport of boxing into something of an institution with the result that fighting for a WBC title became every fighter's ultimate dream.

Sulaimán boxed as an amateur and served as a trainer, promoter, referee, and judge. However, he was best known as an administrator for more than three decades. At the age of 16, he was on the boxing commission in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

In 1968, he joined the WBC and quickly moved through the ranks. On December 5, 1975, Sulaiman was unanimously elected president of the WBC and served in that capacity until his death.

Outside of boxing, Sulaiman, who spoke Spanish, English, Arabic, Italian, Portuguese and French, successfully operated a medical supply company in Mexico. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of fame on June 10, 2007.

Sapi also spoke about efforts the ZPBWCB is making to change the current situation where amateur boxers from the armed forces lose their jobs if they decide to turn professional. This is the topic that has inspired today's column.

Currently, armed forces personnel who are allowed to turn professional without risking their jobs are footballers and a typical case is that of Zambia soccer team captain, Christopher Katongo, who, we all know, has plied his trade in China.

The Zambia army even promoted him after guiding his team to the first Africa Cup win in 2012.

On the programme, which co-featured Superior Milling managing director, Peter Cottan, Sapi argued that it did not quite make sense to exclude amateur boxers from benefitting from their employment after they decided to turn professional like footballers do.

Noting that footballers like Katongo brought honour and respect to the employer, Zambia army and to the country at large, the parallel could be drawn for servicemen in amateur boxing who, if they excelled in the sport, could similarly bring benefits to not only themselves, but their employers as well.

The board is pursuing this matter with the Ministry of Youth and sport and has since written a letter to Chishimba Kambwili and is awaiting a reply. Amateur boxing is the foundation for professional boxing and, who knows, the next great champion could be lurking at Zambia Army or Zambia National Service, but cannot turn professional for fear of losing their job. There's a danger in boxers staying too long in the amateur ranks.

The danger is that they may have too many fights which could leave them 'washed out' by the time they turned professional. Of course, a good amateur track record is necessary before one turns professional, but a situation where boxers remain amateur for life should not be encouraged.

The other point is that if we don't allow service boxers to graduate from amateur to professional, we are somehow killing professional boxing because some of the amateurs are good enough to provide a reservoir for professionals.

Ring talk urges the minister of sport to look into the matter of servicemen and women in amateur boxing to be allowed to join professional boxing without losing one's job.Mwale.simon@yahoo.co.uk

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