Kenya’s ‘Hit Squad’ on the ropes with final chance to punch 2024 Paris ticket

Middleweight Elizabeth Andiego.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Die-hard boxing fans in Kenya have every reason to worry considering no boxer from the country has secured their place in the Games thus far.
  • So the Bangkok tour is literally a do-or-die affair for the six fighters.

If there is one qualification that is making hearts of genuine boxing fans in Kenya skip a heart beat, it is the elimination tournament at The Indoor Stadium Huamark in Bangkok, Thailand.

This world qualifier, that started yesterday and runs unto June 2, is the last opportunity for the hitherto-feared “Hit Squad” to punch a ticket to the Paris Olympic Games.

The six Kenyans who are hoping to turn their lifelong Olympic dreams into reality include female fighters Amina Martha (bantamweight), Friza Anyango (welterweight) and veteran Elizabeth Andiego (middleweight).

The men's brigade has Edwin Okong’o (light-heavyweight), Boniface Mogunde (light-middleweight) and newcomer Peter Abuti (heavyweight).

The technical bench has head coach Musa Benjamin, David Munuhe (deputy coach) and John Waweru (trainer) who are all International Boxing Association (IBA) three–star coaches.

More than 600 elite boxers from 133 different countries will be battling for a spot in the Paris Olympic Games 2024 scheduled to take place from July 26 to August 11.

A total of 51 (23 for women and 28 for men) Paris 2024 Olympic quota places are available in this qualifiers.

Winners in each category together with first and second runners up will earn their passage to the Games

Die-hard boxing fans in Kenya have every reason to worry considering no boxer from the country has secured their place in the Games thus far.

So the Bangkok tour is literally a do-or-die affair for the six fighters.

Kenya’’s tale of missed chances started on September 9-15 at the Dakar Arena, Senegal where all the country’s boxers flopped.

The pattern was repeated at the first World Qualification Tournament in Busto Arsizio, Italy, from 3 to 11 March 2024.

The worried boxing fans are aware that anything short of a first three placing at The Indoor Stadium will mean Kenya pugilists not climbing the North Paris Arena and at Roland-Garros Stadium where the boxing tournament will be held in Paris.

The stark reality is that Kenya is at the risk of failing to have a boxer at the Olympic Games for the first time since 1964 when five represented the country

The “Hit Squad” made their maiden appearance in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games where the late Philip Waruinge from Nakuru and Alex Oundu finished ninth overall in the featherweight and lightweight categories respectively.

The Other Kenyan boxers at the 1964 Games were John Kamau (flyweight), John Olulu (light welter) and Gichere Gakungu (welterweight).

Kenya boycotted the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada and the 1980 Moscow Games due to political reasons.

Celebrated international boxing referee and judge Joseph Mwangi Muthoga popularly known as “Don King” who has officiated in the Commonwealth Games, five editions of the All African Games, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and at numerous international says the lack of youthful boxers may be Kenya’s undoing .

“The average age of our boxers is 30 years while our opponents from Europe, Asia and the US are 20 years. Kenyans boxers cannot match their speed and agility in the ring. Our opponents have graduated through the youth development,” said Muthoga.

At the same time, he said officiating in the international qualifiers is key.

“African referees and judges are very few and don’t get equal opportunities like their counterparts in Europe and Asia. It is important for Africa to have enough officials in such qualifiers because you can’t rule out the possibilities of officials ganging up to favour their teams,” said Muthoga who qualified as IBA referee/judge in 1994 in South Africa.

He added: “The final qualification is in Asia and I worry that officials from Asia may collude and favour their fighters who did not qualify in Italy.”

However, Muthoga who is a two-star IBA referee/judge blamed African governments for failing to support the advancement of boxing referees and judges in their countries.

“Development of referees and judges in Africa is zero. African government must go back on the drawing board and ensure we have many qualified international referees and judges to counter Europe and Asia.”

He said the failure of qualified IBA international referees and judges to accompany ‘Hit Squad’ in competitions outside the country due to lack of funds denied them the much needed exposure.

However, he said the six-member ‘Hit Squad’ has what it takes to qualify for the Paris Olympics as they had gained relatively good exposure last year and this year.

“12 members of the team went to Havana, Cuba last year for special training where they got the required exposure, which is very rare to come. If you add the Italy and Dakar qualifiers, Kenya should not miss victory in the Bangkok qualifiers,” said Muthoga.

“I have officiated Okong’o. He’s a powerful boxer with a vision. Mugunde is an equally skilful boxer while the rest are also perfect according to their records,” said Muthoga.

Muthoga said Kenya lacks junior boxing and women development strategies to prepare budding boxers for international assignments.

“Boxing should start at the school level but when we have primary and secondary school games boxing is not featured and that is where there is a weak link in the development of this game. Counties should invest in boxing through inter-county games to raise our standards,” observed Muthoga.