Cash-strapped amateur boxing body is adamant it won’t go pro for Games
● 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
Ricardo Malajika fights in the 56kg division.