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Boxing: Five Young Ugandans In Search Of Glory In AIBA Women's World Championships in Korea
by Michael O'Neill
October 27, 2014


(OCT 27)  At a time when the AIBA and Asian Olympic body, Olympic Council of India (OCA) are at loggerheads following the recent Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, it is refreshing to report of an African country whose boxers are actually looking forward to the forthcoming AIBA World Championships in Jeju Island, also in South Korea.

These are the five young women who hope to represent their country and pit their wits against the likes of China's Cancan Ren, India's MC Mary Kom, Tiara Brown from the United States, her fellow countrywoman Queen Underwood, and Olympic Gold medallist from London 2012, Ireland's Katie Taylor who will be seeking a record five in a row 60 kg lightweight crown in Jeju.

So who are these boxers? Where do they come from? How do they prepare and will the AIBA approve their entries for Jeju or deny them the opportunity of taking on their heroes from all continents including MC Mary Kom who will hopefully be representing her country again in South Korea?

Moses Mugalu, Uganda's respected boxing commentator writing in the (Ugandan) Observer reports that this is all about to change provided that the AIBA accepts their entries for Jeju.This would be after all the first major championships that they have entered outside of their home country and they have certainly never faced competition from such as Mary Kom, Queen Underwood or Katie Taylor in their home country before.

Writing this week in the "Ugandan Observer", Mugalu concludes that these ' female boxers have been treated as mere curtain-raisers who participate in exhibition bouts before major boxing tournaments. But that stance is bound to change when five boxers; Maureen Adhiambo Nakiryowa, Diana Tulyanabo, Hellen Baleke, Diana Atwine and Lydia Nantale, compete at the Aiba Women’s World Championships due November 13-25 on Jeju island in South Korea'.

Under the guidance of national team coach, Dick Katende, the pugilists have so far put in three weeks of work-out sessions as part of the team’s non-residential preps at Lugogo gymnasium. Despite working on the bare minimum of resources (because of financial constraints Uganda Boxing Federation only gives them tea and lunch, no transport and upkeep allowances yet), there are high spirits in the boxers’ camp.

“I have always wanted to represent my country and this is a great chance for me… I will not disappoint,” vows Hellen Baleke, who is the most senior fighter on the team.

Beleke started out as a bantamweight in 2005 and has since boxed at different weight categories upwards to her current middleweight class. Having set out as a fighter in exhibition bouts before major events at Lugogo Indoor Arena, Baleke has ‘steeled’ through such contests to become a regional force.

Albeit perhaps a little optimistically she feels that the experience gained from her recent bouts against Kenyan opponents, who are more exposed internationally, could come in handy in her bid to win a world championships medal. Light flyweight Nakiryowa and Tulyanabo (welterweight) is equally optimistic that current struggles in preparations could inspire their success.

“I embraced boxing in 2007 because of desire to get self-defence skills but there’s a realistic chance now to make it a big career,” says 22-year-old Tulyanabo, who has a record of eight wins in eleven bouts.

Tulyanabo’s international exposure includes bouts in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi after she boxed in the regional Inter-Cities and Clubs Championships during the 2011 and 2013 editions. Formerly a footballer in Kampala Kids League (KKL), Nantale, who is the youngest on the team, is counting on the chance to gain international experience but her fate on whether she makes the trip or not will be decided by UBF officials next week.

The Ugandan newspaper concludes that ''at 17 years of age, she’s ineligible for this Aiba elite tournament but UBF could consider taking her as an understudy on the team for future prospects. As expected, Nantale awaits UBF’s decision with a lot of anxiety. It could make or break her boxing career.

Apart from Diana Atwine, who is based in Entebbe, the other four pugilists live low-profile lifestyles in Kamwokya slum dwellings. Their sacrifices to boxing include foregoing meals and walking on foot (to and fro) Lugogo for training session every weekday.

It’s against this background that Beleke appeals for more support from UBF and the general public towards their preps ahead of the world championships.Organised by boxing’s world ruling body, Aiba, the Women’s World Boxing Championships will attract the best female boxers across 10 weight categories including 48kg, 51kg, 54kg, 57kg, 60kg, 64kg, 75kg, 81kg and 81-plus kilogrammes.

This is the eighth edition of the Championships, which were first held in 2001 in Scranton, USA. Previous editions have been staged in Antalya, Turkey in 2002; Podolsk, Russia in 2005; Delhi, India in 2006; Ningbo, China in 2008; Bridgetown, Barbados in 2010 and Qinhuangdao, China in 2012.

WBAN joins in wishing the young ladies of Uganda well in their quest for glory, if indeed they are accepted for the World's in Jeju and especially if they should come up against the likes of Mary Kom, Cancan Ren, Tiara Brown, Queen Underwood or Katie Taylor in South Korea.

Meantime, Philippines boxing media continue to report that there is an ongoing 'dispute' between the AIBA and the Olympic Committee of Asia (O.C.A) following the recent events in and out of the ring in Incheon. The OCA were of course the organisers of the Asiad in South Korea and seemingly have taken issue with the AIBA on more than one count.

According to respected Yahoo Phillipines, the Indian team management demanded a review of L Sarita Devi's lightweight semifinal bout after the veteran was adjudged to have lost despite a dominating performance against hometown favorite Jina Park.

The fight which was telecast in the Philippines over TV5 showed the Indian girl in almost total control of the bout but the judges shocked Sarita and the crowd at the Soonhak Gymnasium when Park was announced as the winner which left the former Asian champion Sarita in tears.

The Philippines had suffered a similar fate when 19-year-old Ian Clark Bautista was, they claim,robbed of a well-deserved victory in the flyweight round of 16 against Sangkon Choe of South Korea who inexplicably won 30-26 courtesy of a one point deduction by the referee for ducking low and on two judges scorecards with 29-28 margins to give the hometown boxer a unanimous decision victory.

Amateur Boxing Alliance of the Philippines executive director Ed Picson, a close friend of AIBA President C.K.Wu, told Yahoo Philippines he initially wanted to file a protest and pay the $500 filing fee which would be forfeited if the protest was turned down. He decided against pushing through with it because under the rules the judges’ decision could not be contested and even if the one point deduction slapped on Bautisa was removed the Filipino would still have lost the bout.


Filipino boxer Ian Clark Bautista with ABAP president Ed Picson. (Photo courtesy of Ronnie Nathanielsz) Filipino boxer Ian Clark Bautista with ABAP president Ed Picson.

The decision favoring the South Korean was roundly booed by the fans with TV5 sportscaster Charlie Cuna stating “our boxer Bautista just got robbed . He beat up a lousy Korean fighter, knocked him down even but lost on points. Robbery!”

ABAP president Ricky Vargas as well as Picson told Yahoo that they “feel for the boy” who was distraught and cried on Picson’s shoulder unashamedly and said “ I sacrificed four years for this, only to be robbed.”

Aside from India, the delegations from Thailand, the Philippines, Mongolia and even China have complained bitterly about the bum officiating that recalled how the South Koreans robbed American middleweight Roy Jones Jr blind in a gold medal bout against a South Korean opponent which was considered one of the worst injustices in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul after which allegations surfaced that the judges had been bribed.

In the men’s bantamweight quarter finals Mongolia’s Nyambayar Tugstsogt out-boxed and out-fought Korea’s Sangmeyong Han, connecting with accurate and solid punches all to no avail as the judges awarded the fight to the hometown fighter in another travesty.

Thailand’s London Olympian Saylom Ardee who lost to South Korea’s Han Soon-Chul 29-28 on the scorecards of all three judges insisted he did better than the South Korean and should have won.

Saylom is quoted as saying: “In fact I did better (against Han) than in the two previous fights” which the Thai boxer won.

But despite the protestations it was only the Indian delegation who filed a protest even though they realized that it was futile since judges’ decisions, no matter how terribly bad, cannot be overturned.

Indian head coach Fernandes blasted the officials alleging “It was pre-decided, the 3-0 verdict is a clear-cut indication. The Korean deserved to have been given many standing counts, going by what happened in the ring, and the bout should have been stopped."

Fernandes fumed, "Sarita was a clear-cut winner but money has talked here and the judges deserve to be thrown out. It happened in Seoul during the 1988 Olympic Games, it's happening now again. Nothing seems to have changed. The new rules have made no difference."

Five-time world champion and a 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist, Kom expressed her disappointment stating "I am shocked and disappointed. Sarita was the clear winner. This should not have happened. She lost because her opponent was a Korean."

Sarita’s husband Thoiba Singh blasted the decision and alleged “the bout was fixed and this was an uncivilized decision” while Sarita herself said “all the training means nothing when such things happens. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We sacrifice so much, even times with our kids.”

The Indians filed a protest after Mongolia also filed a complaint citing similar grounds of bias but both protests, as expected, were eventually thrown out by the Games jury.

As WBAN reported at the time Devi later on refused to accept her bronze medal during the awards ceremony and left it on the podium.

Philippines Ed Picson decided against filing a protest and antagonizing the Korean organizers and took the more rational step of merely addressing a letter to Tournament supervisor David Francis of Wales who was the highest ranking official of the boxing tournament.

It is reported that Yahoo Philippines obtained a copy of Picson’s letter in which he said:

Dear David,

Please allow me to explain my team's position regarding the bout between our boxer Ian Clark Bautista and Korea's Choe Sangdon and my decision to speak with you about it right after the bout.

We felt strongly that Bautista won the fight and the reaction of the crowd reinforces that argument.

Having said that, I have been in this sport long enough to know there will be times when things happen which strike us as unfathomable. Then again, there have been several instances in the tournament (not involving us) which elicited angry reactions, not only from the participants involved, but the crowd as well.

We are concerned that repetition of such insensitive decisions may send the wrong signals and damage the gains the AIBA leadership under President Ching Kuo Wu has achieved in its avowed goal of transparency and fairness.

As you know, I considered filing a protest but after speaking with you, thought the better of it.

I wish to make it clear that I am not accusing any of the officials of the tournament but only wish to remind our judges and referees to be more circumspect and focused. Perhaps a review of the fight tape and those of other contested results is in order?

As a brother in our beloved sport, I know you to be one of the most upright people I have come across in boxing. The same holds true for most of the officials working the tournament. This view is unchanged. I only wish for our tournament to be successful and for our sport to be free of controversy and suspicion.

I reiterate my and my federation's pledge of continued cooperation and unwavering support for AIBA and its leadership as well as your unenviable job as Tournament Supervisor.

May you have less headaches.


Edgar Picson
Executive Director,
Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines

In another development the Olympic Council of Asia (O.C.A) is said to be 'seriously displeased' that one of those subsequently suspended by the AIBA, Indian Chef-de-Mission A.J.Sumariwalla is in fact a representative chosen by the O.C.A and the Olympic Council of Asia (who organised the Asian Games ) believes that the AIBA has no jurisdiction over their employeee Sumariwalla.

You will recall that following the podium protest by Laishram Sarita Devi, she, her coaches GS Sandhu, Blas Iglesias Fernandez and Sagar Mal Dhayal as well as Indian chef-de-mission AJ Sumariwalla were also suspended by the AIBA. AIBA said in its Press release announcing the suspensions that it 'will not allow any of them to participate at all levels of various competitions, events and meetings until further notice'. That in turn has angered the O.C.A and matters have since been further complicated by media reports that following a meeting between Sarita Devi and India Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the latter has instructed the Government's sports minister to raise the issue with the boxing authorities through the Indian Olympic Association (I.O.A).

So a difficult time for the AIBA, the I.O.A and the A.O.A not to mention the fact that the Indian boxing team is awaiting news as to whether its team and officials will be allowed to compete in the forthcoming AIBA World Championships in South Korea. One possible outcome could be that the 'recently formed' Boxing India could choose the Indian team for Jeju but would it include such as L.Sarita Devi and MC Mary Kom ? And in the (hopefully) unlikely event that both are excluded then what would that mean for the Indian team and especially for boxers Sarita Devi and Mary Kom?

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