When boxing was marred in political dogfights, especially in the middle of the past decade, fans deserted the sport. Government and the corporate society channelled their attention [and resources] to other sports, neglecting Uganda’s most successful sport. The bad boy image epitomised boxing as frustrated young slumdogs, who should have used boxing as a shortcut to good life, channelled their skills and power into petty crime for survival.
Result, boxers and coaches became their own fans. The MTN Arena became too big for national boxing competitions, yet too small for growing sports like basketball. The professional ranks were not spared either as promoters fear to suffer financial knockouts.
But the National Boxing Open Championship that climaxed February 3, showed Ugandan boxing can rise from the canvas and regain its image—when the public sees more of its success than its ghetto ancestry.
There was no organising committee independent of the executive but the Uganda Boxing Federation scored in staging the best national championship in recent times.
First, the new federation, which assumed office January 2018 [there are still legal battles, by the way] has made use of the cheap, available communication to publicise their events. They have also befriended mainstream press, no wonder this was the first Open championship to be televised live.
Second, UBF opened the gates free to all. The logic: arena-filling numbers are better than the petty gate collections when you have some government funding and serious sponsors like UNAIDS and its anti-Aids partners, who addressed the boxing family on matters HIV/Aids, through free check-ups, lectures and demos.
Unlike before, this time there were enough pairs of gloves, groin protectors and head gears. Boxers did not share gum shields. Medical staff, judges and security communicated alerts on walkie-talkies. No unnecessary movements or delays. Several troublemakers were foiled, knives, razor blades, marijuana, matchboxes confiscated at the gates.
However, more should be done to avoid the recurrence and escalation of chaos, the kind that led to the suspension of Day Four action when hooligans targeted ‘biased’ judges. UBF must help referees/judges improve their credentials through refresher training.
And nothing can justify the two hours wasted in giving out the awards which ended past 1m, especially when the journalists covering the event were not guaranteed security for their lives and equipment.