Battered and bruised 'Hit Squad' needs total overhaul
What you need to know:
- Kenya, which has previously done well in major competitions as Africa Boxing Championships, African Games (formerly All Africa Games), King’s Cup, Commonwealth Boxing, and the World Boxing Championships, has become a punching bag in the ring.
- Under the watch of the current Boxing Federation of Kenya (BFK) officials, the sport is facing a total collapse even as we move closer to next month’s 2022 African Boxing Championships in Maputo, 2023 African Games in Ghana, and 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
In seven consecutive editions of the Commonwealth Games, Kenya’s once-dreaded and invincible national boxing team “Hit Squad” has performed disastrously.
The standards of local boxing have fallen to an extent that all of the country’s boxers were knocked out in the preliminary round of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. The team returned home a fortnight ago without a medal.
So far, none of the officials who travelled with the team has come out to tell fans what led to such a dismal performance.
At the end of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, International Boxing Association (IBA) President Umar Kremlev from Russia lauded the efforts of African pugilists after they won a total of 19 medals.
It is instructive to note that AIBA Extraordinary Congress is due next month in Armenia, and Kremlev will be challenged by Dutch Boxing Federation President Boris Van der Vorst.
Early this year, Van der Vorst was barred from standing in the elections but overturned the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
No African nation won a gold medal in Birmingham, but Ghana and Mozambique claimed two silver medals and bronze each to finish as the highest-ranked African countries on the medals table.
In total, nine African nations claimed silver medals, the others being South Africa,Tanzania, Botswana, Uganda , Nigeria, Zambia and Mauritius.
Kenya, which has previously done well in major competitions as Africa Boxing Championships, African Games (formerly All Africa Games), King’s Cup, Commonwealth Boxing, and the World Boxing Championships, has become a punching bag in the ring.
Under the watch of the current Boxing Federation of Kenya (BFK) officials, the sport is facing a total collapse even as we move closer to next month’s 2022 African Boxing Championships in Maputo, 2023 African Games in Ghana, and 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Last week, BFK through its secretary general, David Munuhe, selected 68 boxers to attend national trials from August 25 to 26 at Charter Hall, Nairobi.
BFK said winners from the national trials will represent Kenya in African Boxing Championships in Maputo from September 9 to 18. By and large, BFK is still doing things the same way.
In years gone by, Kenya stood shoulder to shoulder with Uganda , Nigeria and Zambia as top boxing nations of the world.
The good results were inspired by legendary boxer Philip Waruinge at the Olympics, the African Games, and the Commonwealth Games over five decades ago.
Waruinge’s gold medal at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica raised Kenya’s profile.
Kenya had attained independence three years earlier. A stylish punching machine, Waruinge competed in other international competitions like the African Championships in Cairo in 1964, and also at the inaugural All Africa Games in Congo Brazzaville in 1965.
On both occasions, he won gold medals in the 57kg featherweight category.
Waruinge and his team mates never let the country down, and their successors kept the Kenyan flag high in subsequent editions of the Commonwealth Games from 1966 to 1994.
But from the 1998 edition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to the 2022 edition in Birmingham, Kenya has suffered humiliating defeats.
Whenever major competitions are around the corner, BAK has been preparing ambitious programmes.
The steering committee would always be optimistic of sending the best squad out there, with the promise of bringing home medals. It was no different this year.
In the 60s and 70s Waruinge, Stephen Muchoki and their contemporaries benefited from exposure through friendly competitions against stronger teams.
Today, Kenyan boxers are entered into fights just to honour the event that would earn officials a few dollars in return.
Waruinge won Kenya’s first gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1966.
The last gold medals for Kenya came from heavyweight Ahmed Omar Kasongo and light fly Abdulrahman Ramadhan at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada. From then on, Kenyan boxing has been on a downward trend.
Both Waruinge and Muchoki coincidentally won two gold medals each, but at different editions of the Commonwealth Games.
Lack of incentives has killed the morale among many youth who may have had dreams of venturing into boxing.
Many established boxers who have quit the sport out of frustration and ended up as beggars make the situation worse.
Many had sacrificed much of their lives to the nation in the name of sports but are quickly forgotten when they disappear from the scene and are never rewarded.
The just-concluded 2022 Commonwealth Games could have been an appropriate place for the government to recognise and reward the 10 surviving gold medal winners in past editions of the Commonwealth Games, led by Waruinge.
These retired elderly boxers deserve better treatment. They could be assigned ringside roles in the “Hit Squad” in future championships.
Featherweight Philip Waruinge at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, and 1970 Games in Edinburg, Scotland, light fly Stephen Muchoki (1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand and 1978 Games), flyweight Michael “Stone” Irungu (1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton,Canada), bantamweight Hussein “Juba” Khalili, flweight Michael “Spinks” Mutua and Light fly Ibrahim”Surf” Bilali (1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia ), heavyweight George “Foreman” Onyango and light heavy Joseph Akhasamba (1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand), heavyweight Ahmed Omar Kasongo and light fly Abdulrahman Ramadhan (1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada), the current crop of boxers are not short of role models.
What was the secret behind Waruinge’s success with other veterans? They were committed to the sport and were led by visionary officials.