Former Lagos State Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Wale Edun, is famous for his association with boxing in Nigeria. His non-governmental organization, Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame, is widely reputed for nurturing talents at the amateur level.
In this interview, he explains that pay television provider, GOtv, has rekindled hope in Nigerian boxing through GOtv Boxing Night and GOtv Boxing NextGen Search.
As an authority in Nigerian boxing, give us an overview of the sport on the domestic scene in the last 25 years?
I think that overall, when you take the last 25 years, which is taking us back to somewhere around the 1990s and even before then, amateur boxing and even professional boxing to a lesser extent were on a decline for most of those years. Amateur boxing around 2009, in Lagos in particular, had a revival when the then Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, encouraged a revival of amateur boxing through the collaboration of an NGO, Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame with the Lagos Boxing Association. That brought into being the likes of Olaide Fijabi, Otto Joeboy, Rilwan Oladosu, and many others, who became the bedrock of the revival and boost to professional boxing through GOtv Boxing Night, which is strongly supported by Odofin Adewunmi Ogunsanya, and the rest of the team at GOtv and DStv. So, I think from decline, from being in the backwaters, boxing has gradually made its way back.
It’s one of the top performers when it comes to the National Sports Festival, national championships and the amateur level.
These days, there really is no difference between amateur and professionals in the real definition of the sport. What we know as the sub-professional level has seen a revival and I think we must request more funding support to encourage young talents which are definitely there. But they need nurturing and need to be provided with the facilities. I think there is a new leadership in the Lagos State Boxing Association and with the Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame, which I’m honored and fortunate to be Chairman, we are definitely determined to give our youngsters that opportunity to excel. The likes of GOtv need to be joined by other top-flight sponsors. There is nothing greater than doing well in the country and supporting the youths.
In specific terms, what changes has the involvement of GOtv brought into this sport. We are aware that way back, boxers endured two to three-year intervals between fights. Apart from having regular fights now, what other things have you seen?
Well, I think that is the key. The key to any sports person is regular activity and regular competition whether you are a footballer, cricketer, swimmer, tennis player or boxer. What you need is regular competition as an amateur and as a professional of course, it’s what you earn your living by. You want regular action, so you can be paid for what you do and I think that’s what has been brought to the table, both at the amateur and professional levels. One leads to the other; one is the academy for the other. So, regular competition, more boxing shows that give various youngsters something to dream for. There is nothing like competition conditions to hone one’s skills beyond what you do in the gym. I think the steady flow of opportunities for amateurs has led to a steady flow of candidates for the professional cadre because the more you have the amateurs, the more you have the professionals. To make professional boxing seem exciting enough to keep attracting television, to keep attracting GOtv, what you really need is for the sport to thrive at the amateur level. It’s the same anywhere in the world and any sport.
The first edition of the GOtv Boxing NextGen Search, a talent hunt initiative, took place at the Lagos Boxing Hall of Fame Gym and you were in attendance. Four other editions have followed. What is your impression of the GOtv Boxing NextGen Search?
Yes, it’s a tremendous one. It’s part of the talent search and scouting system. A similar thing happens all over the world and provides people a platform for the display of raw talents, which need grooming. GOtv NextGen Search is a good hunting ground to identify young people, young sportsmen, who are ready to be boxers. And I think it should be spread to women as well. At Lagos State Boxing Hall of Fame Gym, we have two separate changing rooms and showers for men and women, so that the young women are not excluded. I think even at the professional level, they should not be excluded.
What hope is there for Nigeria to produce elite- level boxers in the nearest future?
I think we have the talent in bucketloads, as they say. The median age of the country is 19 and the population is 200 million or thereabouts. So, you have so many people that fall into the categories of around 12, 14 to 20, 24, 25, which are the usual sporting ages, particularly for young amateur boxers; for people who are developing and coming up. So, we have what it takes in terms of raw materials. It’s for us to take advantage of such, provide facilities, provide encouragement, provide the stage and the platform.
As I always say, it is not all about turning professional, it’s not all about being at the league level. So much goodness, so much satisfaction and so many good traits and characteristics come about from following a regimen of discipline, training and pursuit of the sporting goal. That’s what gives joy to the majority of young boys and girls that turn to amateur boxing. Yes, out of that whole cohort, you get the elite talents that excel because they have that something special, which allows you mentally and physically to excel.
We want to see the few do well for themselves and earn a good living for their families as well as project positively the image of the country. At the end of the day, we are doing it for the many sports of which amateur boxing is just one. We are doing it for the healthy development of our youngsters. Adults and those who are duty- bound to do whatever they can to help the youngsters should do such.
In what other ways can corporate organisations intervene in boxing for it to grow a lot more than it currently is?
Well, as Yorubas would say: “Owo ni keke eyin rere” (money is key). Because you have to put resources behind talent in order for it to achieve fantastic results in the end. So really, whether it is cash or in kind, the corporate sector must look inwards and count as part of its corporate social responsibility the support for sports, and in this case, we are asking for support for boxing facilities that are required. Sometimes, the donor prefers to know that they are providing these particular items and they can look at the list of items from space for gym to equipment to boxing rings, boxing gloves, and outfits. There is a whole range of ways which individuals and companies can support in kind and of course, a large element is also cash support. We require financial support to provide for the many items that are needed to put together a successful boxing programme that will provide all the wonderful benefits which we have been talking about.