Zimbabwean boxing hits the canvas?
Whisper it softly, or carelessly, Zimbabwean boxing, the sport that put the country on the sporting map ‘alongside cricket, hockey and tennis ‘ is against the ropes.
Names like Muhammad “Tar Baby” Beira, Spring Killer, Tadios Fisher, the legendary Langton “Schoolboy” Tinago, man-mountain Proud “Kilimanjaro” Chinembiri, “Stix” Macloud, “Flash” Chisango and Kid Power among a proud group of those that defined boxing in that by-gone era, are now slowly slipping into distant memories. And such is the wave of fashionable pessimism it is not way off the mark to say the sport may have hit the canvas and ready for the count.
“Yes, these are challenging times for boxing.” Says Petros Masiyambumbi, technical director of the Zimbabwe Amateur Boxing Association (ZABA). “Down but not out,” adds the veteran coach in a show of pugilist defiance.
“No one denies that boxing has slipped down the popularity stakes from the dizzy heights of the 80s when Zimbabwe was highly rated in the region, causing sensational ripples in the region, Africa and the Commonwealth,” admits Masiyambumbi.
The retirement of boxers in the mould of “Schoolboy”, that Shurugwi born hit man from the cold Midlands city of Gweru who was a record three-time Commonwealth lightweight champion, seems to have marked a decline of boxing’s fortunes.
“I am not happy with the state of boxing ‘ especially on the sponsorship side,” says Masiyambumbi, explaining that while there are many talented young and enthusiastic fighters in the amateur ranks, the corporate world and the government should play their part in supporting the sport.
“The government seems to be uninterested’ it has let us down,” he laments.
Echoing the words of one of the greatest boxers to hail out of the fertile breeding ground of boxers that is the high-density ghetto of Mbare, Tarbaby, that “it pains to see these youngsters fighting for peanuts”, the technical director sent his appeal for those with the sport at heart to assist.
Pulling no punches in an interview on the sidelines of a training workshop for coaches in Harare recently, Masiyambumbi cited the last “incident” when the boxing team failed to go to Namibia for the Zone Six Championships as a blow to the sport.
After staying in camp for two weeks and spending millions of dollars prior to the planned Sports and Recreation fortnight final camping, the boxers were told there were no funds.
“We are very disappointed’ after all the preparations’ we had high hopes for bringing some medals,” Masiyambumbi says, disappointment registering in his voice.
But in true sportsmanship spirit, the national coach says they will never leave or let the sport go to the dogs and he adds: “We are leaving no stone unturned in preparing our boxers for better times to come and bigger events.”
With the All-Africa Games next year and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, the game can not afford to throw in the towel.
And in a show of support, the Switzerland-headquartered International Amateur Boxing Association, through the Sport and recreation Council, has facilitated the training of coaches by sponsoring training workshops,
One such is Dennis Young, an England professional boxing coach who conducted the 12-day training.
“My impression is that the coaches are committed, dedicated and keen to learn new training methods,” says Young who narrowly missed selection for the England team that represented England in the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. “But,” he cautions, “exposure is very important. Boxers need regular competitive matches to remain in peak condition.” Masiyambumbi agrees.
“The government must give us small grants as they to other sports,” he says, observing that such assistance would go a long way in helping Zimbabwean boxers to compete with those from neighbouring countries like Zambia, South Africa, Botswana and even Lesotho.
“We’re not where we are supposed to be,” Masiyambumbi, who was coordinating the training, said.
It’s a long road to travel to reach the same level as the golden generation of the 1980s, now that he has experienced the challenges confronting the sport inside and outside the ring, Young says that Zimbabwe can never afford to turn back having come so far.
“Now I have my teeth into this training programme,” he says, “I would like to see results.”
But with its back against the ropes and a very harsh macro economic climate prevailing outside the ring, having knock-on effect on lack of equipment, resources and sponsorship, can the sport do a “rope-a-dope” a la Muhammad Ali ‘ George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle?
Only time will tell.