Cash-strapped am­a­teur boxing body is adamant it won’t go pro for Games

Sunday Times - - Sport Hockey - By DAVID ISAACSON

● Gabriella Drew­ery was at cheer­lead­ing prac­tice at the Univer­sity of the West­ern Cape when she de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate strange noises com­ing from the nearby gym hall.

In­side she dis­cov­ered the cam­pus box­ers hard at work and, in­trigued by what they were do­ing, joined them the next day.

That was more than a year ago, and last week­end the BA psy­chol­ogy stu­dent won the South African women’s 51kg crown at the na­tional cham­pi­onships in Se­cunda.

“I’d like to en­ter the Olympics,” said Drew­ery, one of sev­eral first-time cham­pi­ons at the event.

Jo­han­nes­burg-based 19-year-old Ri­cardo Mala­jika, run­ner-up on de­but last year, scored a ter­rific knock­down in the 56kg fi­nal en route to a points vic­tory over na­tional squad mem­ber Bon­gani Non­cele, an SA cham­pion in the di­vi­sion be­low.

Zum­bonge Non­cele from Mthatha, 20, was com­posed as he cap­tured the 52kg crown; and school­teacher Ger­hard Thysse, nephew of for­mer pro­fes­sional na­tional su­per-mid­dleweight cham­pion An­dre, lifted his maiden ti­tle at 24.

Sinethemba Blom, one of South Africa’s two fighters at the Com­mon­wealth Games in Gold Coast in 2018, was among the more ex­pe­ri­enced fighters of the tour­na­ment, and his dom­i­nance showed in the 64kg di­vi­sion (his na­tional team­mate lost in the 49kg quar­ter­fi­nals to even­tual win­ner Prince Malete).

What hap­pens be­tween now and the na­tional tri­als early next year will de­ter­mine the core of the squad that will try to qual­ify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Blom, study­ing psy­chol­ogy at the same univer­sity as Drew­ery, is lead­ing the charge of a tal­ented group of green­horns who are all badly lack­ing in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

Olympic boxing al­lows for pro­fes­sional fighters to par­tic­i­pate, but SA Na­tional Boxing Or­gan­i­sa­tion (San­abo) pres­i­dent Andile Mofu doesn’t want to take that route to end SA’s 56-year Games boxing medal drought.

For starters it would re­quire amend­ing the Boxing Act which reg­u­lates the pro­fes­sional fight game in this coun­try. But even if that wasn’t an ob­sta­cle, he wouldn’t be in­ter­ested. “Pro­fes­sion­als are used to fight­ing 12 rounds, not three rounds where they must throw a higher vol­ume of punches.”

Pro­fes­sional trainer Colin Nathan, han­dler of stars Hekkie Budler and Moruti Mtha­lane, con­curs. “It’s two dif­fer­ent codes.”

The facts, so far, sup­port them — three pro­fes­sional box­ers com­peted at the Rio Olympics and all per­formed abysmally.

Am­nat Ruen­ro­eng of Thai­land and Has­san N’Dam N’Jikam of Cameroon went to Brazil as for­mer world cham­pi­ons, while Italy’s Carmine Tom­ma­sone was a Euro­pean cham­pion.

All three fought in di­vi­sions sev­eral kilo­grams heav­ier in Rio be­cause, while their bod­ies can cope shed­ding weight for one-off paid bouts, the weight loss was too much to sus­tain for a two-week tour­na­ment.

Blom, who will con­sider turn­ing pro­fes­sional if he fails to qual­ify for Tokyo, says the rule al­low­ing paid fighters to en­ter what is ef­fec­tively still an am­a­teur code is un­fair. “They get to train full-time. They don’t have to go to school like me.”

Mofu ad­mits he will have to find money to get Olympic hope­fuls to prepa­ra­tion camps ahead of in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

Lack of money is a prob­lem, and some of his new cham­pi­ons are al­ready eye­ing the paid ranks in­stead of the Olympics.

All he has to work with right now is raw tal­ent and drive; Tokyo 2020 will be tough.

Pro­fes­sion­als are used to fight­ing 12 rounds, not three rounds where they must throw a higher vol­ume of punches Andile Mofu Pres­i­dent of SA Na­tional Boxing Or­gan­i­sa­tion

Pic­ture: Alon Skuy

Ri­cardo Mala­jika fights in the 56kg di­vi­sion.

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