LONDON — Boxing used to be one of Africa’s best sports at the Olympics, with fighters from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa pulling in medals. That has not been the case for years, and officials and fighters say lack of funds is what ails African boxing.
Bantamweight boxer Isaac Dogboe aggressively worked the inside on his taller, more experienced opponent for three punishing rounds in his Olympic debut fight. But it was not enough to win on this international stage.
Judges scored the three-round bout 10-9, giving Japanese fighter Shimizu Satoshi the win after he lost the first two rounds to the 17-year-old Ghanaian.
Africa’s boxers have had a rough run at the Olympics.
In the first two days of the Games, most African boxers have been eliminated from the tournament, which continues throughout the Olympics. By contrast, in those first two days, all four of the U.S. contenders progressed in spectacular style.
But the continent used to boast supremacy in the sweet science, with Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria bagging medals left and right. Not one of them has won a medal in the sport since 1996. Kenya has not won since 1960, but has more than made up for the medal deficiency by lapping the continent in track and field.
The international boxing body only allows amateurs to compete in the Olympics.
Nigerian boxer Shawn Love Rapha, who has turned his back on a chance to qualify at the Games, says there is no hope for amateur boxing in Africa. He says corruption, lack of investment and inadequate training make the amateur game unattractive.
“The reason why most guys, for Nigeria in particular, do not want to stay in the amateur program is it is ill-funded ... you do not have coaches who know what they are doing, you have improper facilities, you have no support from anywhere. Besides, most of these guys are area boys, they are bus drivers, they are bus conductors, how will you survive as a boxer?,” Rapha said.
Ghana team spokesman Erasmus Kwaw says the four boxers representing Ghana are good, but have not had the training their competitors have.
Ghanaian boxers, he says, have an uneven playing field, and have to improvise to get the same training. Ghana has not won an Olympic medal in the sport since 1972.
“Usually, our counterparts from the other parts of the world are always better prepared, they are one step ahead of us. We have neglected the art of the sport in the country, we are not paying so much attention to it and we still expect to get so much from it at the end of the day. So, I think it just goes down to the fact that we are not taking care of things very well on the African continent, and that is why we are not winning medals,” Kwaw said.
In Kenya, the athletics powerhouse, boxing has fallen by the wayside, but the country is teeming with good fighters who are not getting a chance.
“I could say that boxing has declined in the country due to the nonavailability of modern facilities in training the boxers of this generation. We have great boxers in Kenya that we could tap from the grassroots, from the schools, from the colleges, but lack of this infrastructure is really the hindrance of producing more boxers ... we have also appealed to the government to source for funding that can assist in developing boxing in our country once more again,” said Peter Angwenyi of the Kenyan team.
But Rapha, the Nigerian boxer, says African boxers are still capable of packing a punch in the pro ranks.
“For me, all I need is the chance, and I believe in my God and the chances He has put before me. The day will come, all the hard work I have been going through by His grace, I will definitely get to become WBC heavyweight champion of the world,“ Rapha said.
Men’s boxing continues throughout the Games. Women’s boxing starts August 5 and runs through August 9.