The Nigeria Boxing Federation (NBF) has issued a statement explaining their non-participation at the African Olympics qualifying tournament in Dakar, Senegal.
In the statement, signed by NBF Secretary, U.M Obot, the NBF pointed out that the advancing via the African qualifying event did little to enhance the chances of medaling at the actual Olympic games.
“We have on several occasions qualified for the Olympics from the African qualifying event but get knocked out at the early stages of the Olympic Games proper.
“As a Federation, we have thus decided to make the qualifiers in France our top priority if Nigeria MUST WIN medal(s) at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and not continuing or repeating our failures over the years.”
In an exclusive interview with BoxingAfrica.com, NBF Board member Azania Omo-Agege said that the Board reviewed Nigeria’s participation at the Olympics over the years before deciding to choose the France qualifiers ahead of the one in Senegal.
“The qualifiers in France is like the Olympics itself and quality fighters from all over the world will be there,” said Omo-Agege. “If a boxer qualifies from there, you can be sure that the boxer is a medal hopeful.
“As a Federation, we never called for any camping of boxers in the first place because for such to happen, the Body’s President, General Kenneth Minimah (Rtd), would authorize such and he never did.
“Some desperate boxers, including professional fighters, contributed money and went into camp hoping to arm-twist the Federation to change its stand and go to Senegal and when that did not work, they resorted to video rants and protests.”
Omo-Agege confirmed that the NBF has entered to participate in 10 weight categories at the Paris Olympic qualifiers and will only take boxers that are capable of not just qualifying but winning medals at the Olympics.
“We don’t want to go to a jamboree at the Olympics,” he said. “We want to go to Tokyo and compete and not just to participate. Going to France will help as we will go with boxers in the weight categories where we have our strength.
“As you know, boxers from Russia, Ukraine and others are very strong in the cruiserweight, heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions and we do well in the lower divisions so the Technical Committee with surely do a good job in selecting the best to go to France.
“We do not know how many will go even though we have entered in 10 weight categories, we will have trials to ascertain whether we will go with 10 fighters or less.”
Regarding the Federal Ministry of Sports accusing the NBF of attending a meet in Cameroon over the African Olympics qualifiers in Senegal and squandering 12 million Naira, Omo-Agege said, “We only went to Cameroon as a means of testing our fighters and getting them ready for the Olympic qualifying events, just like football teams play friendly matches and players go for trials.”
When BoxingAfrica.com reminded him that the Federation took more female boxers to Cameroon he reacted, “Yes, we have lots of strong women fighters and we decided to test them in Cameroon. We never went on a jamboree.”
However, it has been reported that, in Cameroon, the boxers sojourned on the road for days, arrived late and had only a handful of fights before returning as the meet was primarily a judges/referee’s event.
The NBF holds the belief that a qualification at the France event almost guarantees that Nigeria will medal at the Olympic Games. Omo-Agege believes that will be the case.
“We have good boxers and we have emerging female boxers that are capable of winning medals,” he said. “I see us going to the Olympics after picking tickets in France, I am very hopeful.”
On condition of anonymity, one of the boxers who was part of the camping told BoxingAfrica.com that the Federation failed the boxers as it would have been easier to make it to the Olympics from the African qualifiers than from the one in France.
“They said we are not good enough and do not want us to go to the Olympics,” the boxer said. “If they wanted us, they would have allowed us to go to Senegal because that would have been easier for us than the World qualifiers in France.
“They will now take all these big boxers to France and that is not encouraging to us. See how long we spent in this Camp for nothing. They said same thing before the African games in Morocco in 2019, but we went there with 10 boxers and won one gold, one silver, and five bronze medals.”
However, Omo-Agege responded, “That is what we want to avoid, easy qualifying and getting knocked out early at the Olympics. We don’t want just participation anymore; we have to do things differently going forward to achieve success and not continue going around in circles.”
Nigeria has won six medals in the Olympics boxing event (three silver, three bronze) since the country began participating in 1952. The silver medals were won by Peter Konyegwachie at featherweight at 1984 in Los Angeles, David Izonritei at heavyweight in Barcelona in 1992 and Richard Igbinegu at super heavyweight also in Barcelona in 1992.
The bronze medals were won by Nojim Maiyegun at light middleweight in Tokyo 1964, Isaac Ikhouria at light heavyweight in Munich 1972 and Duncan Dokiwari at super heavyweight in Atlanta 1996.
After missing the African Olympics qualifying event in Senegal, Nigeria’s 2020 hopes now rests on the Paris Olympic qualifiers, which will be held from May 13 to May 24.
— Ralph Chidozie George, Twitter: @ralphcgeorge