By Ade Ojeikere
Truth always stands out like a sore thumb. It only takes time to know its significance. Those who have spent taxpayer’s cash storming England to watch Anthony Joshua box or should I say defend his World heavyweight boxing titles did so to deceive themselves, certainly not the pugilist. The beauty of all these professionals is that they have structures within their camps that drive their processes. These structures ensure that only legitimate people or establishments benefit when the time to reward excellence emerges.
There isn’t any room for anyone to ambush the established processes, such as our Nigerian leaders. Such interlopers are kept at a distance, making them to share the moments after fights. These Nigerian hawks among others are left on the lurch when it is time to celebrate. I wrote here last week that the Nigerian government lost the opportunity to use Joshua’s likeness for his fatherland to drag the boxer to Nigeria, where he would be impressed by the hospitality he would get here to make critical pronouncements that would reinvigorate boxing, which was made popular by the late Dick Tiger Iheatu at one of the Olympic Games, a professional boxer who held the World Middleweight and World Light Heavyweight Championships. Tiger emigrated to Liverpool, England to pursue his boxing career and later to the United States.
Tiger was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. The Ring magazine named him Fighter of the Year in 1962 and 1965, while the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) named him Fighter of the Year in 1962 and 1966. In 2002, Tiger was voted by The Ring magazine as the 31st greatest fighter of the last 80 years. What this simply means is that boxing has been a Nigeria forte, especially when one remembers Isaac Ikhuoria won a bronze medal at the Olympics. There was also Davidson Andeh, Peter Koyengwachie et al.
Instead, we chose to pigeon hole the meeting of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari with a world champion inside a conference hall. Of course, Joshua prostrated before the President to the joy of a large government delegation waiting patiently to take their turns in photo shoots with Joshua. The essence of such an epoch-making ceremony was lost on the government officials who didn’t see the business side of such a symbolic event. Those who packaged the session ought to have come with Joshua’s manager who would whisper to them how best to make the event a showpiece to the president with the game (boxing) the biggest benefactor. Some people were eager to ascribe Joshua’s meeting with Buhari as their efforts, forgetting that such celebrities are entertainers who come with prizes, only if the organisers asked the relevant questions.
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On Tuesday, Joshua’s manager Eddie Hearn showed those who organised the event in London how to celebrate stars. Joshua joined the legion of boxing champions who have expressed their fears over the dearth of the pugilist trade which brought them opulence and fame. Determined to give back to such a trade, Joshua made donations towards some boxing gyms, just as he nursed fears that many people may go out of business due to the second wave of Coronavirus pandemic.
The cash will be distributed to clubs via England Boxing, Welsh Boxing, and Boxing Scotland. Did I hear you say no mention of Nigeria? How can we when we are used to spending government money which is very cheap? Joshua’s image-makers would have seen through those who negotiated the meeting and allowed them to stew in their mess. Indeed, what struck this writer is the fact that sports isn’t seen from the altar of recreation as we do in Nigeria where certain governors tag the money-spinner ‘play play’ unlike in saner climes where Joshua learned his trade.
Joshua’s donations were made to the communities showing that the emphasis for sports to thrive rests in the hinterlands where talents abound waiting for any machinery to bring out their hidden talents. Sadly, in Nigeria, we develop sports from the top. If the governor or his deputy likes one or two sports, lickspittles around the government would make a scene out of the sports, especially when their principals are around. That isn’t sports development. Our governors and local government chairmen should learn from this Joshua initiative if sports must be a money spinner and the greatest employment platform for our youths who need to be engaged positively.
Joshua said: ‘’We need to bring attention to the boxing industry and how important grassroots sport is. I definitely think boxing gyms will go under (without help). It came to my attention when I read the article from Repton, about understanding the costs of what it takes to keep the gym open. Not only keeping the gym open but the income they have made independently to keep going and it’s been really, really tough.
‘’There are clubs who are struggling even worse. That’s why I feel it’s important to bring attention to this issue. Without the amateur system, the grassroots clubs, there are no Olympians and without them, there are no world champions in the country.’’
Joshua’s donation arose from the fact that many amateur gyms have been forced to shut down albeit temporarily due to the Coronavirus pandemic, making the youth venerable to embrace crimes in the absence of the training sessions at the gyms. Besides, Joshua also didn’t want them to hang up their gloves especially those that made be shut permanently, depending on the impact of Coronavirus in such areas or states.
Joshua is the latest high-profile boxing personality to voice his fears following that of his promoter Eddie Hearn and Northern Ireland’s former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton.
Joshua – who retained his world title belts with a ninth-round stoppage of Kubrat Pulev earlier this month – has made his donation to clubs via the three home nations federations.
“Boxing helped shape me, both physically and mentally,” said Joshua. “It is no secret that without boxing and the family created around my amateur gym, my life could have been very different.
“The sport has given me a lot and I want to help highlight the issues affecting grassroots clubs and do what I can to keep the lights on for those most in need.
“I am not using this as an opportunity to criticise the government for its lack of funding towards boxing – these are unprecedented times – however, I would like to use my platform to respectfully ask them to rethink their stance. Without the support, we will lose community hubs and potentially the stars of tomorrow.”
What gets this writer thinking is the blatant refusal of government officials to do the right things. Instead of rubbing minds with Joshua and his marketing team to learn about the rudiments of the game and its merchandising, they showcase their tomfoolery by name a street in his state after the pugilist. Can you beat that? Does Joshua live here? does even know where the street is located? Is it just enough to change the name of the street without allowing the recipient to witness the event? Imagine seeing Joshua on a particular street and the attendant crowd eager to catch a glimpse of their idol? Picture the marketing openings that would be sold to the corporate world and quantum cash to the initiators and government?
It would have made more economic and business sense if the Ogun state government could present a request that Joshua adopts two of their best boxers. The ripple effect of such exposure is that Joshua and his training crew would arrange for a visit to the state to fish for more of such boxers if truly the best is handed over to them for further development. As an Edo man, I’m’ worried that the late Brai Ayonote boxing gym is rotten away inside the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, yet Joshua, a Nigerian like they want us to believe is donating to gyms in Scotland, England and Wales. I’ve always asked who placed a curse on Nigeria? Whereas Joshua received a Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal, we chose to laugh our hearts off watching the world boxing champion prostrate before Mr. President. Come on, we can do better. Who has told us that Joshua would marvel over a street named after him when he wants kids of crime to embrace boxing in saner climes?
Joshua can provide our boxers, Ogun State’s inclusive with all the professional training needed to reach the top. It is no use making a ceremony out of Joshua’s visits to the country, we ought to let him see the boxing facilities in the state and the other 35 states and Abuja, the city which hosted the 8th All Africa Games. he would know where he can contribute. It would be a shame if at this point we are spending on AJ instead of getting resources and technicalities from him.
Joshua’s life underscores the power of using boxing among other sports to reform individuals. In 2009 he was put on remand for ‘fighting and other crazy stuff’. In 2011 he was suspended by the Great Britain squad after being caught by police in possession of cannabis. This transformation defeats the essence of immortalising Joshua, if that is what those who named a street after him wanted to achieve. What a country.
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