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Hitters, duck masters gone, and so is the ring

FOUR Tanzanian boxers are in Senegal trying to secure tickets for summer Olympic Games in Japan.

Their presence in the qualifier gives a glimpse of hope that at least something is being done to revive the sport, whose era seems to have completely faded from a limelight.

Both amateur and professional boxing do not make headlines as it was a situation two decades ago when names like Rashid Matumla, Haji Ally, Habib Kinyogoli, Michael, Willy Isangura, Patrick Mwanga were making headlines in the regional, continental even global arenas.

It was once one of the most exciting sports in Tanzania and its East and Central African neighbours; Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. Today, over three decades since the likes of Neva Mkadala, Lucas Msomba, Isack Mabushi, Ahmed Tesha, Gerald Isack and Emanuel left us the socalled stylish boxing; The sport’s popularity has sadly declined.

No advert on the boxing fights like it was a situation decades ago when the fights between Charles Libondo (Mawe) and Stanley Mabesi attracted fans in the thousands. But this, however, is not only a Tanzanian calamity. Worldwide, interest in boxing has slowly declined since the 1990s and today there is a lack of big names in the sport.

Famous fighters such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson used to dominate the sport and make front-page news. These days boxing receives little coverage. Another big factor in the lack of interest in the sport is the proliferation of world bodies and number of weight divisions.

Previously, you could stop almost anybody in the street and ask: “Who is the heavyweight champion of the world?” Most times people knew the answer, whereas today there could be four or more fighters claiming to be “heavyweight champion of the world”.

Soccer is a global game, and boxing has no hope of attracting fans when soccer has up to six channels on pay television showing various games from around the world at any one time.

Not only even in Kenya and Uganda, whose boxers like Ayub Kalule or Steven Muchoki or Phillip Waruinge did wonders in boxing, the decline in both amateur and professional boxing has been more rapid than the rest of the world due to the attraction of other sports and factors outside the ring.

Tanzanian amateur boxing has a proud record in the Commonwealth Games and World Boxing Championship. Ahmed Tesha and Michael Yomba Yomba are the only gold medalists. Yomba Yomba won the country’s last gold in 1998 none else did it again ever since.

Numerous leading professionals launched their careers through amateur boxing, but with the current Olympicstyle boxing, the standard of professional boxing has declined. When a youngster joins the professional ranks he has to learn a completely new style of boxing because of the different rules and regulations.

However, we are of the opinion that boxing can be turned around on a limited basis despite the competition from other major sports. This will need a concerted marketing effort by both the amateur and professional bodies to put a plan in place to get the fans back to boxing.

The hiccups that led boxing not to advance can be rectified if a concerted effort and long-term programme is implemented to get the amateur code back on the world scene.

We believe that this is possible, as has been shown by countries like Great Britain, India and China, who have working programmes in place with financial backing from the lottery and government, which has resulted in them winning medals at the Olympics.

From nowhere, Tanzanian boxing was on headlines again when the then unknown Hassan Mwakinyo did wonders in England.

We were surprised because, one, we did not even know that we had a boxer of such pedigree in this country, and secondly, we were surprised because it took us by surprise; and you can only be taken by surprise if you have not invested in what is unfolding before your eyes.

Therefore to stop these surprises, we now need to be proactive, especially so, our business men and women they need to invest in boxing and other sports. The government can for its part invest through training of instructors abroad. We need as many boxing and other sports instructors as possible.

I CANNOT pretend to be the closest friend ...

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Author: MIGUEL SULEIMAN

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