By Trigo Egbegi
Sometimes, it’s good to experience a change in one’s life when a man is accorded royal attention after occupying the bottom rung for what looks to be eternity. In the context of Nigeria’s sports setting, the distinction is drawn separating the elite disciplines from those condemned – by the higher establishment – to eternal rejection.
The week ending Saturday, September 24, 2011 was, indeed, a special one for Lagos State amateur boxing by way of an international tournament that was rounded off inside the Indoor Hall of the Mobolaji Johnson Sports Centre, Yaba. Only two nights earlier, an eight-man squad of the same Lagos ABA was on duty in front of a command audience inside the Grand Ballroom of the prestigious Eko Hotel & Suites, in Victoria Island, Lagos against the visiting Repton Boys Club of London in the United Kingdom.
Come to think of it. You are not reading about one of those all too familiar fistic fixtures in Isale-Eko or Egbeda that many would decline to attend even for free. This was an event replete with Dinner and Cabaret, as well as vastly improved tournament facilities, including a standard boxing ring.
I bring this to the public’s attention, essentially, because I have finally stumbled on a truly legitimate effort that could mark the starting point to bringing the nation’s amateur boxing back on its feet. Many times in the past, Nigerians have been taken for a ride with loud-sounding projects that have proved to be no more than one-shot appetizers, failing to deliver when and where expected.
I recall with regret the much publicized IBB International Boxing Tournament initiated during the era of the late (NABF Chairman) Brai Ayonote that attained the status of an AIBA ranking event within one calendar year of competition. It was another crucial leg in what had been designed as a multi-faceted initiative to bring the sport back to the very top it occupied in the past. In 1992, Ayonote steered the ship to two Olympic Silver medals.
In December of the same year, the energetic Nigerian Air Force Officer passed on tragically while on active fistic duty in far away China. His death effectively terminated Ayonote’s well thought programme, together with the ambitious Gymnasium Complex that lies abandoned and rotting within the National Stadium in Lagos till this day.
This piece hinges less on the weekend glamour nights of Eko Hotel & Suites and the Mobolaji Johnson Complex, respectively, than the quiet initiative of February 2009 that looks to be on the way to yielding the dividends for which it was established. Today, Lagos State stands head and shoulder above every other rival in the area of amateur boxing development. If in doubt, just check the recent National Sports Festival in Port Harcourt where no fewer than eight of its reps medaled.
While conceding that the problem of the nation’s amateur boxing is an enormous national malaise on the shoulders of the new NABF leadership one has only to remind General Minimah to take a cue from the concept of the Lagos State Boxing Hall of Fame that was deliberately designed and aggressively pursued for the primary objective of redirecting the burning energies of the millions of its idle youths. It is obvious that over the years the parent boxing federation had indulged in no more than pay mere lip service to what little programmes that have been mapped out for implementation in the effort to reposition the sport.
With what has been done by a single state in the last 24 months, it becomes quite clear that excuses of inadequate funding by the Federal Government are no longer tenable, coming from a federation that is found wanting in defining its key goals and method for achieving its objectives.
Lagos State makes no secret of its goals which include development of boxing in all nooks and crannies of the state; development of infrastructural and facilities to world class standard; and organizing programmes, projects and meaningful competitions – local and international. It is equally its desire to establish Lagos as the Mecca of boxing in the African continent.
It is all the more laudable that this noble venture which was first conceived and took off as a private initiative now enjoys a warm partnership with the State Government – through the state Ministry of Sports – that serves as core implementation agency. Mobilization of funds here is a most visible aspect in the implementation of the project.
Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame is not all theory. It is a project that has been brought down to the very grass root level by way of procuring standard gym equipment for no fewer than 12 of the scores of community boxing clubs spanning the length and breadth of the state. This gesture is expected to be extended to others.
Competition remains a key factor to the development of the sport all over the world. It is 24 months since the on-going monthly Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame series kicked off. It is expected that by early 2012 this event will have metamorphosed into a weekly serial, to be tagged Saturday Night Live.
Of immense significance is the visit of the Repton Boxing Club with which LSBHF has entered into what is designed, ultimately, as an exchange fighting programme by way of reciprocal visits by both clubs. As is similarly envisaged by LSBHF chairman, Olawale Edu, Repton Boys Club was formed in 1884 by the old Repton Public School as a way of support and encouragement to youths in one of England’s poorest communities.
It is noteworthy that through the Repton initiative have emerged such notable fight figures as John Stracey, former WBC welterweight champion; Maurice Hope, former WBC super welter champion; and towering Audley Harrison who was 2000 Sydney Olympics super heavyweight gold medalist.