Kenyan boxers cling to hope of dominating Kazakhstan Worlds
04 October 2013, 11:34
Nairobi - From dusty, rusting decaying social halls, boxers aim at the punching bags to show their determination and lust to succeed in a discipline their fathers excelled in before.
Kenya's golden generation of pugilists have a blurred memory of what the country score in boxing was like.
As they slow down with age and other social economic demands, the sport they once vibrantly thrived in is facing a bleak future, with a generation they passed the baton to not so certain to deliver the next medal when the world meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the World Boxing Championships starting on Oct. 11.
Lack of sponsorship
Former Kenya international and Commonwealth game heavyweight champion George 'Foreman' Onyango, now a deputy coach with the Hit Squad -- a nickname for the boxing team -- says lack of government support, corporate sponsorship and failure to penetrate the school system is to blame for the marooned development.
"Kenya still has top boxers coming through the ranks. But there are conflicting interests, first from other sports, which promise better prospects and second many look at the gains they will earn from boxing. To be sincere, they are minimal," said Onyango.
But that has not stopped young boxers to pursue their dream as they seek to represent Kenya at the World Championships in Kazakhstan.
The World Boxing Championships is the signature event on the global boxing governing body, AIBA calendar going back 39 years to its beginnings in 1974 when it made its debut in one of the heartlands of boxing -- Havana, Cuba.
Boxers aged 19 to 40 are united every two years to compete against the best in their division from around the world.
The fighters participate in the official 10 weight categories in accordance with the AIBA technical rules with hopes of claiming ultimate glory, becoming a world champion.
Kenya is among the 116 teams that will be participating in the championships, which will bring together record 576 boxers.
In Baku, Azerbaijan back in 2011, AIBA recorded an increase of participants at 570 boxers from 113 countries and regions ( excluding the reserves).
"We are extremely pleased with these numbers which demonstrates the growth of our competitions and AIBA as a whole," said Ching- Kuo Wu, AIBA President in a statement. "The 2013 AIBA World Boxing Championships will be historical for many reasons and I'm looking forward to welcoming all of you in Almaty."
All is not lost
One reason why, Kenyan fans will have to believe in the team is that two of its boxers Commonwealth Games bantamweight silver medallist Benson Gicharu and welterweight Rayton Okwiri secured scholarships to train in Kazakhstan together with other nationalities, courtesy of AIBA's Road to Dream Program.
"By bringing these already talented athletes and coaches together in one place, they can share knowledge, and technical expertise with each other. At the same time they enjoy the mentorship of an experienced international head coach for the duration of the camp," said Ching-Kuo Wu.
"Not only does this improve the standard of the boxers and coaches concerned, but upon returning home, the skills are shared with other members of the national team and federation. In this way the AIBA Road to Dream incrementally helps improve the standard in developing boxing nations around the world as well as supporting talented athletes from those countries achieve their full potential."
Kenya's two boxers have George 'Foreman' Onyango to guide them through training and also learn from other coaches.
However, the team left behind is finding it hard to access the training facilities as financial constraints continue to bite.
The team has light fly Peter Mungai, Simon Mulinge (fly), John Kariuki (light), Dennis Okoth (light welter), Nickson Abaka ( middle), light heavy Elly Ajowi and Daniel Shitsia (heavyweight), Charles Okoth and Peter Opudi (super heavyweight).
Boxing Association of Kenya (BAK) chairman John Kameta said, to mentor and bring a team from Kenya is difficult as many a time; they are forced to deep into their pockets to pay out their expenses.
"We are yet to receive any support from the government despite their earlier commitment. It is just days to the championships and the boxers are almost giving up. Now we have to look at the future and realize that doing well in Kazakhstan will be a stepping stone to the Commonwealth games next year in Glasgow and the Rio Olympics in 2016," Kameta said.
But as the team prepares to fly out next week for the championships, one thing is clear, even without the money and support, they determination to excel in the sport is undeniable.
Probably it will be enough to propel them to victory. If not, they may just be minnows trying to punch above their weights.