Boxing — the sleeping giant (Graphic Sports......Pg......)

SOME years back in Ghana, any discussion related to boxing could not end without reference to “Azumah Vs Gomez”.
“Azumah Vs Gomez” aptly captured an uncompromising pugilistic brush between legendary Ghanaian boxer, Azumah Nelson, and Puerto Rican Wilfredo Gomez.
Gomez was the victim of a flurry of punches by Azumah who knocked him out in 11 exciting rounds in San Juan on December 8, 1984.
Before Azumah’s feat, history has it that the late Eddy Blay, Clement Quartey, Sule Shitu, Roy Ankrah, D. K. Poison, and many other unsung heroes of Ghana boxing were thorns in the flesh of other boxers across the world, and won laurels for the country.
The first Ghanaian medal (a bronze) in any sport did not come through the ‘global leather’ — football — but rather through the effort of a high jumper, Robert Kotei, at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games in 1958. Kotei marched on to become a Chief of Defence Staff of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF).
However, the first medal (silver) in the Olympic Games was delivered by Clement Quartey at Rome in 1960.
Eddy Blay blazed Ghana's gold medal trail in international competitions at the Perth Commonwealth Games in Australia in 1962, a year before the Black Stars lifted the African Cup of Nations. The legendary boxer repeated the exploit in the same competition at Kingston, Jamaica, in 1964, another year before the Black Stars took Africa by storm to win the Nations Cup for the second time.
Then came on the heels of Azumah, the  “Bazooka man,” Ike Quartey, who taught his opponents unforgettable boxing lessons and punched boxing out of the likes of Oba Carr, Ralph Jones and Vernon Philips of the USA, Vince Phillip, of the Virgin Islands and Crisanto Espana of Venezuela.
If there is any game that puts Ghana on the world map and raised Ghana’s flag high among the commonwealth of sporting nations long before football started its magic in the country, it is boxing.
However, these days when a Ghanaian boxer mounts the ring, I find it difficult to watch because of fear of a heartbreak.
The question to ask is, is boxing a lesser-known sport or a lesser-sponsored sport? The evidence is there for all to see. Today, the pugilistic sport is a pale shadow of its former self in Ghana, and trails football by miles.
Is it not an irony that Ghanaian boxers in the name of training have to punch the rubber out of lorry tyres? In a world in which the diet of sportsmen and sportswomen are regimented, our boxers do not even know where the next meal will come from, if they ever find breakfast or lunch.
A visit to most gyms in the country will make boxing fanatics sad and one is tempted to believe that although necessity is the mother of inventions, to use car rims and lorry tyres as weight-lifting equipment and punch bags is a bit overboard, especially when other boxers across the world consult their trainers on how many kilograms to lift.
If the country does not change its attitude towards the sport and motivate its boxers to go all out, we will continue to only add up to the numbers at events such as the Olympic Games, the All Africa Games and other boxing competitions.
Ghana’s novelty boxing league is treading like a giant on the limbs of a mosquito (apologies to Chenua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart); it is not finding the going easy at all. I once witnessed an amateur bout at the Prison’s Canteen and in the course of the bout, one of the boxers nearly sank into the platform. It took some effort to pull him out. The psychological effect alone will be enough disincentive, if I were that boxer.
It takes thousands of Ghana cedis, if not millions, to motivate  members of the Black Stars to prepare for international tournaments through pre-tournament tours and all. On the other side of the coin, our boxers have to pre-finance their training outside the country and hope that they can bring the title home to the rupturous crowd at the airport and probably a presidential honour.
The Black Bombers, the country's boxing team, is another victim of neglect, and on countless occasions, the expatriate coach and the authorities in charge of amateur boxing in the country have complained bitterly about the inadeqaute support it receives.
Two years ago, a boxing ring donated to the Greater Accra Amateur Boxing Association (GAABA) was seized by the Customs Exercise and Preventive Service (CEPS) because GAABA could not raise the GH¢10,000 needed to clear the ring. It took the intervention of the Ghana Olympic Committee to pay for the clearing fee.
The most embarrassing part of the whole affair was that the officials of the Haringey Boxing Club, the philanthropist, were witnesses to the incident and were not amused because the ring was not of commercial value to the GAABA.
Prior to the rehabiliation of the Ohene Gyan Stadium in preparation to host the CAN 2008, there was talk of moulding the metal rails that were to be removed into rings for the Boxing Associations in the country. Four years on, inquiries at the National Sports Council have yielded no positive response.
The question to ask is where did the metals go? Which contractor was given the deal? Who did the NSC task to supervise the work? Apparently, there are more questions than answers.
If the nation could invest into boxing a quarter of what it doles out to football, I have a personal conviction that the standards of the sport would move to another height and eclipse even the nation’s passion — football.
What prevents us from putting tax exemptions on sports equipment when musicians are benefiting from that package?  It is time to do what will be of benefit to this country; exempt taxes on sports equipment.
In this regard, it was heart-warming to hear the former Minister of Sports, Abdul Rashid Pelpuo, announce that the government was sourcing funds to construct a multi-purpose boxing gym as part of measures to develop the sport in the country.
It is also gratifying that the newly-constituted Ghana Boxing Authority has old and experienced hands such as Azumah Nelson who know the plight of the Ghanaian boxer.
One prays that the Minister of Youth and Sports, Ms Akua Sena Dansua, will vigourously pursue this agenda for the sake of the hundreds of young people on the streets of James Town and beyond to nurture their God-given talent.

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