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50 years on

By Trigo Egbegi
ONE valid excuse as to why boxing in Nigeria is unable to keep pace with today’s numerous emerging disciplines is the zero youth fan base the sport commands. Simply, reason of sound logic.

Boxing is kept barely alive in this country by just the sympathy of the few core followers old enough to reflect on the productive pre-Independence and immediate post-Independence era when Hogan Kid Bassey and Dick Tiger blazed the global trail.

Together, the twain garnered accomplishments that stand unequaled by anyone in any sport.

Equally significantly, the ring exploits of Bassey and Dick Tiger propelled the nation towards the earliest recognition by the international community, way ahead of the oil bonanza.

How, then, does one expect to ignite the interest and enthusiasm of a youth 50 years – and below – when the same Hogan who was crowned world featherweight king the night of June 24, 1957 in Paris, France, quit the game  only two years later?

Or the late Dick Tiger to whom is accorded the distinction of winning the world middleweight and light heavyweight titles between October 13, 1962 and December 16, 1966, but retired in 1971- when today’s 40-year-olds were still in diapers?

Thus – in my books – it is easy to understand why and how the feats of two illustrious ring warriors have painfully been cancelled out by the passivity of the same one-time trail-blazing sport that has swept itself into a pathetic back-bencher position. This is the sad anniversary account of 50 years of boxing in Nigeria.

The irony of professional boxing in this country stems from the fact that the sport got lost in the woods these past 40 (or so) years after such a great start that has not quite come close to being duplicated.

It’s instructive that my assessment is not intended to fault latter generation fighters for their inability to match older colleagues as the key factor leading to the fall of the sport. That would not be doing justice to the individual efforts of the likes of Rafiu King Joe, Obisia Nwakpa, Joe Lasisi, Bash Ali, Akeem Anifowoshe, David Attah, etc.

who worked their way to contender positions and legitimately earned world title shots.

Besides, Nigerians are not in a hurry to forget the six months of bliss provided his countrymen in 2008 when Samuel Peter reigned as World Boxing Council heavyweight champion.

Rather, boxers deserve sympathy for being the most visible victims of a combined leadership, technical and managerial conspiracy perpetrated to give boxing the status of a failed sport. This is the, biggest name in our sports that has been marked with the proverbial Indian sign.

Sadly, it is the boxing sport itself and a number of its related partners – that is hatching the deadly plot. In the vanguard of the plot killing professional boxing is its own leadership unit: the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control.

Arguably, the NBB of C ranks as the most visible non-performing federation parading the nation’s sporting spectrum. Aptly coined after its British counterpart, this board was constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1949 by our colonial masters, with the sole mandate to monitor, control and supervise all professional boxing activities in the country. The pioneer board comprised mostly whites.

Such was the authority the board wielded thereafter, and it administered the sport independent of Government input as it monitored all fee-paying licensees ranging from promoters, managers to trainers and boxers etc.

Predictably, an all-Nigerian personnel took over the running of affair after independence, and until the 1990s, though, Nigerian boxing more than held their own in the Commonwealth and West African Sub-Region. Top board executives rose to hold key positions in some global sanctioning organizations, and by which our boxers enjoyed rating considerations.

As far as I know, the mystery of NBB of C non-performance, certainly, isn’t traceable to any glaring incompetence on the part of the leadership. Not even to any lack of ideas. Rather, I see a collapse of fighting spirit, especially in these times of advertised domestic economic meltdown which it has come to accept. I should be in the position to know.

Indeed, the fear of this exaggerated economic ‘ghost’ is such that today it is this same NBB of C that has effectively passed its tepid spirit down the tier to promoters and managers alike. The result is that there are barely any boxing activities these days all over the nation.

That much of the power and authority of the NBB of C has been unwittingly eroded is not in doubt. It is commonplace seeing Board helpless in the enforcement of basic statutes, as well as carry out impositions on defaulting licensees. Could that come as a surprise when, these days, board membership is extended to include all manner of unproven characters?

Consequently, it is the boxers that have ended up innocent sacrificial lambs. For – collectively and individually – Board, managers and promoters work assiduously towards under-cutting their wards desired goal. The Establishment is most unwilling to properly define the cardinal objective as it affects the economic potential of the boxers on whom pro boxing sports revolves. Without the boxers there can never be boxing.

Yet, it has never occurred to this father-figure unit to address the all-important subject of aligning the financial gamble of the daring promoters with a decent, morally acceptable purse to equalize the health risk embarked upon by the boxer.

Board’s definition of pro boxing remains no more than that of mere pastime designed to entertain armchair spectators. Don’t be shocked: Today’s boxers are contracted for purses that are only marginally higher than what was paid their older colleagues 50 years ago.

Promotions? Well, boxing events have long vanished from our domestic scene. I have it on authority that there have been close to 40 licensed promotional outfits spanning the last 40 years.

As at the close of 2008, Ninety percent had gone into extinction; seven percent in a state of absolute dormancy after staging, perhaps, one sorry miserable show; while the surviving three percent have barely packaged any one show to convince even the most generous and lavish sponsor.

There are many other areas militating against the sport that need addressing, but that will be for another time. Have a blessed Independence Anniversary.


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