Sorry: Fans hailed a little too soon

We saluted then the supporters at the house-full Rufaro Stadium in the Zimbabwe capital for the Harare derby between once-were-kings Dynamos and reigning Premiership kings Caps United. We hailed the way the supporters went about the business of urging on the protagonists ‘ peacefully. We said this is what, for us, this thing is all about. I am sorry we spoke too soon. Really sorry. So sorry. On Zimbabwe’s Independence Day, Tuesday the 18th of April, we woke up to reports that a Caps United Football supporter died the previous morning, after allegedly being stabbed in the ribs with a knife by a Dynamos supporter in the town of Chitungwiza, just outside the capital. The report said that this incident occurred after the Independence Trophy semi-final between the two giants of Zimbabwe soccer, again at Rufaro Stadium ‘ that ceremonial home of the local beautiful game. Dynamos lost the match after Desmond Maringwa failed to convert the first penalty in the sudden death stage of the penalty shoot-out, after the two teams had finished the first stage of the penalty shoot-out tied on four, after they had failed to do the deal in regulation time. They finished one-all. The reports say the deceased was celebrating his team’s victory over the old enemy and, in his joy, blew his horn into the ear of a Dynamos supporter who, deep in his post-defeat blues, saw red and allegedly assaulted with fists and feet the supporter from the green half of the capital. The Caps supporter sought refuge in a nearby shop but the Dynamos supporter followed him and stabbed him. The Caps supporter lost consciousness and then died at the Chitungwiza Hospital the next morning. And so, once again, we learn from history the lesson we have always learnt from history: we do not learn from history. We refuse to learn from history. We stubbornly refuse. But why, my brothers? The provoked: is this thing worth killing for? The provoker: is this thing worth dying for? Alas, for the latter all I hear is the sound of silence. If we are so full of aggro and interested in sport, why not take up the noble ancient art of boxing? For the un-initiated, boxing is the art of attack and defence with the fists. It is a sport, which means those of us that way inclined can kill ‘ my choice of verbiage here is unfortunate ‘ two birds with one stone. There are many who feel that boxing is a violent and dangerous sport. Because of their feeling, they have called for the abolition of the sport. These calls are as old as the sport itself and the sweet science has ridden them through the ages. Listen to former British, European and World Boxing Association featherweight champion Barry McGuigan. The Republic of Ireland icon was quoted by The Observer newspaper in 1994: “The gladiators and champions through the ages confirm quite clearly that aggressive competition is part of the human make-up. For the sport of professional boxing to be banned would be the most terrible error.” Now, you may be one of those who believes that that day after Christmas was so named because of the sweet science. Not really. Yes, the police and hospitals say they deal with lots of cases of fisticuffs around that day but the 26th of December is not Boxing Day as a dedication to pugilism. The day after Christmas ‘ or the first weekday if the 26th is on a Saturday or Sunday ‘ which is a holiday in our part of the world, as it is in the United Kingdom, Canada and several other countries, was so named from the practice of churches which opened the boxes of money, food, and other items donated by parishioners during the Christmas season for the poor, aged or otherwise disadvantaged. There you go about O Master of Wander, Mr Banda. Is there no end to you and yours? I apologise, my friends. The point is I am excited because I have read that host an international boxing tournament at the end of next month. On the 27th of May 2006, to be precise. And we are not talking international boxing tournament as in just international boxing tournament. We are talking the World Boxing Association (WBA), comrades. For the un-initiated, the WBA is a professional organization founded in 1920 as the National Boxing Association of America. It changed to the more cosmopolitan WBA in the 1960s. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C. in the United States, the WBA sets the rules and regulations for bouts under its jurisdiction. It is from these contests that its champions emerge into the alphabet soup that is the world of professional boxing. Never before have we had something this big here from the world of pain. Reports say over and above those from Zimbabwe, the tournament will feature purveyors of the hurt business such as Brazilian welterweight champion Antonio Mesquita, South African light-middleweight champion William Gare, Zambian and former Commonwealth number one contender Matthews Chifumpeni. Top of the bill is the WBA Pan-Africa elimination bout featuring Zimbabwe heavyweight champion Thamsanqa Dube and Anthony Nell of South Africa. Unless they can do the deal earlier, they will trade leather over a dozen rounds. The importance of this event cannot be over-emphasised. Boxing is in the doldrums in Zimbabwe. The sport has been haemorrhaging for some time now. It is thanks to the efforts of a handful of people such as trainer Boris Znider, promoters Farai Muchena and Stalin Mau Mau and the plucky boxers themselves that have kept the game going. Now we even have female boxers such as Monalisa Sibanda and Patience Master! And all this development basically on a wing and a prayer. It is the same vicious cycle: the promoters are not there because the money is not. The money is not there because the crowds, and with them the markets and with them the sponsors, are not. The crowds are not because the fights are not. The fights are not there because the promoters are not there. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum, ad nauseam, ad absurdum. It is against this background that we hope that the forthcoming tournament will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of boxing in Zimbabwe. Professional boxing has vast potential commercial value. We have no reason not to unlock it.

April 2006
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