boxing on the ropes

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

South African representation in boxing at the Olympics since our readmission into the international fold back in 1992 has declined remarkably.

And this should be serious cause for concern for boxing authorities and the government.

South Africa was represented in the fistic sport in Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.

Our boxers might have returned home without medals from previous Olympics, but for them to compete in the Olympics was good for their careers.

It was also good for the development of the sport in the country because the Olympians would share the knowledge they acquired at the Games with other South African boxers.

The Olympics also offered them an opportunity to taste international competition on the big stage and this also played an important role in their exposure.

It was not surprising that some of our Olympians became national and world champions after they turned professional after the Olympics.

While many South Africans with a passion for boxing were expecting an impressive number of boxers at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they were disappointed that only one fighter will represent the country in the event in August.

Jackson Chauke, the fighter from Limpopo, is the only boxer who will be carrying our hopes in Beijing.

Chauke, insists, though, that he will do well in the Games because all the eyes in South Africa will be on him as the only boxer from the country at the Olympics.

Does this prove that development of boxing in South Africa is in a shambles? Many people believe so.

It is worrying that we have only one boxer in the Olympics, considering that we have untapped talent in abundance in the country.

We also boast good facilities and a horde of development coaches.

Are the authorities doing enough to unearth raw talent in the country?

Surely not, if the qualification of one boxer for the Olympics is anything to go by?

To say many boxing fans were disappointed on learning that South Africa will be represented by only one boxer at the Olympic Games in Beijing is an understatement.

They are angry and view the prevailing situation as an insult to local amateur boxing.

South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) president Moss Mashishi, has expressed concern about this matter.

"I would be lying if I say we are not worried that we will have one boxer in the Olympics in Beijing," Mashishi told Sowetan in a recent interview.

"If what is happening in our sport should be considered, then I can safely say boxing development in the country has taken several steps backward and something should be done as a matter of urgency to solve this huge problem.

"We cannot sit back and do nothing to address this worrying factor. As Sascoc we are not administering athletes but we have the responsibility to engage the federations to deal with problems affecting different sporting codes in the country," he said.

Vernon Phakathi, South African National Amateur Boxing Organisation (Sanabo) president, attributed the prevailing situation to a lack of funds.

"We could not have many boxers in our national championships because we did not have enough money," Phakathi said.

"We survive on funding from the department of sport and there was a huge cut in the money this time round.

"This meant we were unable to rope in more boxers to the national championships that determined boxers for the continental qualifiers," he said.

He said they had close to 100 boxers in the national championships and five of them managed to qualify for the Zone 6 tournament.

Chauke won a gold medal in the Zone 6 event and qualified for the All Africa Games (AAG) in Algiers, Algeria, last year that served as an African Olympic qualifier.

He failed to qualify for Beijing in the AAG but succeeded in the second qualifier in Namibia in February.

Asked why they considered coaches from Cuba to prepare local boxers and overlooked local mentors, Phakathi said: "Cubans coaches have enough expertise and we cannot take this away from them.

"We invited some of them to prepare our boxers for the Athens Olympics and we also had a German coach.

"We had one from Cuba for the Beijing preparations. There is nothing wrong with utilising foreign expertise to prepare our boxers."

Several attempts to solicit a comment from Butana Komphela, chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on sport, drew a blank at the time of going to press.

Some of the boxers who represented the country at the previous Olympics include Philip Ndou, Masibulele Makepula, Jeffrey Mathebula and Lodumo Galada.

They became top professional fighters after the Olympics.

Ndou won the SA and WBA Intercontinental featherweight and WBU and WBC International junior lightweight titles.

Makepula, who was a flag bearer in Atlanta, won the WBU and WBO junior flyweight and the IBO flyweight titles.

Galada holds the SA featherweight title.

Mathebula scooped the IBO Intercontinental junior featherweight and WBC International featherweight titles, and will fight for the IBF junior feather weight eliminator against Mexican Julion Zarate in South Africa on August 29.