Ghana: Raising Future Boxing Champions

January 13, 2024
4 mins read

By Mohamed Najid Bin Mohamed
Sultan

Tuesday, October 23, 2012.

                                                  
ACCRA, Ghana –

Joshua Clottey sauntered down the dusty
streets of Bukom, a small village on the outskirts of Accra, his eyes keenly
scanning the people around him.
His bright blue Adidas T-shirt brightly contrasts
the tiny homes with tin roofs lining the dirt road, and drew the attention of
many people who interrupted him, eager to chat with him.

He walked up to a small shack at the corner of a
soccer pitch and glanced at a mural of him by the door before entering.

“I’m from a poor family. I had to go all out to
just achieve something, to become somebody,” Clottey said, as an assistant
passed him his soccer gear. “That motivated me to become who I am now.”

Clottey, 36, is renowned within this community and
in Ghana as one of the many great boxers to have passed through the boxing gyms
in Bukom, a small, densely populated shantytown about the size of Manhattan’s
Central Park.

The former International Boxing Federation (IBF)
welterweight champion, who has fought famous boxers such as Manny Pacquiao,
follows the tradition of boxing world champions to have emerged from Bukom,
like Alfred Kotey and Azumah Nelson.
In the face of poverty and high unemployment rates,
many men in Bukom see boxing as a way out of their impoverished lifestyle,
seeking the dream that has come true for their fellow countrymen such as
Clottey. Although many of them do not make it to the international stage, it is
remarkable how boxing draws these men back to Bukom like magnets.

Francis Quardey started boxing at the age of 8, and
represented Ghana in the amateur boxing team for five years after turning 17.
He fought in countries such as Cuba and Germany, and had 12 victories in 16
bouts, including 10 knockouts. However, he was not represented by a manager or
a promoter, and had to give up his boxing dreams due to financial difficulties.

“It’s peanuts, the money I got,” Quardey said. “I
didn’t have money to eat.”
After retiring in 1992, Quardey, now 44, learnt how
to repair photocopiers to make money. However, his passion for boxing
prevailed, and he is now an assistant trainer at the Discipline Boxing Academy
in Bukom in hopes that the current boxers will be more successful than him. He
runs a small business of photocopier repairs because the job at the gym comes
with little to no pay.

“We have talents in Bukom…but there is no one
there to help them,” Quardey said. Ebenezer Sowah Thompson, like Quardey,
believed that boxing would change his life for the better. During his
eight-year amateur career, he had a record of winning close to 80 out of 84
fights. However, due to a shoulder injury, his dreams of becoming a
professional boxer slowly deteriorated, and he hung up his gloves in 1993.

“I totally lost everything. My whole life I’ve been
boxing, but because of my injury, I haven’t gone far,” Thompson said, shaking
his head.

Nevertheless, Thompson, 46, returned to Attoh
Quarshie Boxing Club in Bukom to be an assistant coach because he wanted to
impart his knowledge and experience in boxing to the current boxers, even
though the job does not pay. He doubles as a security guard at a private
residential complex to make ends meet.

Thompson’s boss and head trainer of Attoh Quarshie,
Godwin Kotey, believes that a major issue adversely affecting the sport in
Ghana is the lack of support from the boxing administrations, namely the Ghana
Boxing Authority (GBA) and the Ghana Amateur Boxing Federation (GABF). He added
that the lack of promotion, motivation and funding for amateur boxers have led
to poor financial returns for them, contributing to the increasing number of amateur
talents dropping out of the sport.

“If you want to build a skyscraper, then the
foundation has to be a very firm one. Or else you build it…and the whole thing
comes down,” Kotey said, referring to the importance of improving amateur
boxing.

The Greater Accra Amateur Boxing Association
(GAABA) is currently organizing an amateur boxing tournament that will feature
regular fights for amateurs The secretary-general Alex Ntiamoah-Boakye, is
hopeful that this tournament will help unearth talents and give them the
reputation and support that amateur boxers need.
The planning phase has not been entirely smooth,
with the GAABA running into difficulty securing sponsors from companies like
major telecommunications company MTN.

Robert Odarkwei Lamptey Jr., the secretary-general
of the GBA, echoed the difficulty of securing corporate sponsorship for boxing
events. “The impression that boxing is a dangerous sport deters corporate
entities, who would have pushed in investments for boxing events, from coming
to assist,” Lamptey said.

However, cases of corporate sponsorships for combat
sports do exist. Orange, a French telecommunications company, is a principal
sponsor in laamb, a form of traditional wrestling in Senegal and arguably the
most popular sport there.
GAABA has secured some sponsorship from smaller
local companies, and Ntiamoah-Boakye is optimistic that more will follow. He
also believes that the tournament will help more than just develop future
boxing champions.

“Bukom, if I may say so, is not a middle-class
income community, and if the government would invest, or public bodies would
invest, I think we would be able to raise their standards to middle-class
because of the sport,” Ntiamoah-Boakye said.
Although others such as Kotey agree that boxing can
help raise the standard of living in Bukom now, Fritz Baffour, the Minister of
Information, and it’s local Member of Parliament warns that it is not an easy
task.

“I’m sure that there are a lot of people who
wouldn’t want to move, or would want to move into what you call relatively
decent housing.”

He explained that Bukom is a fishing community made
up of primarily the Ga people, who worked as fishermen and stevedores. Their
history of hard labor and their culture of showing physical might in unarmed
combat developed them into great pugilists.  Many simply have no intention
to leave the village, even with its high poverty level.

Although opportunities to climb the economic ladder
such as free education and finding jobs in other parts of Accra, the passion of
boxing prevails and people choose to stay.

One thing that remains certain is the continued
flow of boxers from Bukom, all pursuing the dream of becoming the next Clottey,
trained by those who have failed but want to help others live that dream.

“We come into this world to fight for our right, to
survive. So everything depends on us, to become who we want to be…you have to
be hard, stand on your toes, keep fighting, keep doing what you do best,”
Clottey said.

Bin
Mohamed Sultan participated in New York University Journalism’s 2012 ‘Reporting
Africa’ program.

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