Judith Mbougnade - Bravest of the
Brave in Rio 2016
by Michael O'Neill
July 16, 2016
Photo credit: TEARFUND
(JULY 16) We are now but
three weeks from the Opening Ceremony of the XXX1 Olympiad in
Rio and soon the eyes of billions round the world will be
watching in awe as sports stars will set dozens of new World and
After a brief respite it will be
time for the Paralympics and even greater examples of courageous
athletes reaching heights that most able bodied citizens would
love to achieve.
Today though we take a look at boxing, a sport in which many
greats have excelled over the years none more so than the
recently deceased Muhammad Ali who as Cassius Clay took Olympic
Gold in Rome back in 1960. So who will be the REAL star of the
boxing ring in Rio?
For me that athlete will NOT be one of those who won a Gold
medal, indeed almost certainly she will not even take home a
medal. Coming from a journalist who has long admired the skills
and exploits of such as Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor and Claressa
Shields; Ren Cancan, Sofya Ochigava and Savannah Marshall that
is some statement but then Judith Mbougnade from the Central
African Republic is ‘one extraordinary’ woman who has faced more
tragedy in her life than most and yet is virtually unknown on
her own continent let alone in the AIBA world of boxing,
‘Amateur’ or Pro.
Unlike thousands of others who would dearly love to be one of
the only 36 women to see action in Rio, Judith is simply praying
that she can safely make it to Rio where she has been awarded
one of the coveted AIBA/IOC ‘Tripartite Commission Invitation
places. Last month here on WBAN we suggested that India’s Mary
Kom, a 5 times world champion deserved the place at 51kg in
recognition of all she had done for the sport and for the AIBA
over many years. Mary would of course have been a great pick.
That place has gone to the aforementioned Judith Mbougnade, and
who could argue with that.
For the 2016 Games, the AIBA did not select boxers via the ‘Wild
Card’ system as they had done in 2012, but instead they followed
the Tripartite Commission scheme.
To be part of the Tripartite Commission the IOC/AIBA decrees
that a country needs to be one of the National Olympic
Commissions with eight or fewer athletes in individual
sports/disciplines at the previous two Olympic Games and the
nominations are subject to approval from AIBA and the
Commission. Part of the thinking of course is that it will give
weaker (boxing) countries the opportunity to grow their sport by
having a representative at the Olympics. Others feel that the
risks outweigh the advantages especially is say a young 18 years
old from a TC country meets a World champion boxer at one of the
heavier weights, especially for men but equally it could apply
to women notably in the 75kg class. The risks are now arguably
greater in the men’s sport with Professional boxers included in
Many parts of the African continent have suffered great loss of
life and millions of people continue to starve to death or are
tortured or murdered by evil regimes or die of malnutrition.
Most get little media coverage nationally let alone
internationally so let us tell you the background to Judith
Mbougnade’s ‘Road to Rio’ with the aid of the International
charity Tearfund, one of the many charities doing such valuable
work behind the scenes in the war torn country.
Among them is boxer Judith Mbougnade, who was part of the
50-strong Central African Republic Sport team travelling across
the region and competing internationally.
In December armed men came to her home and attacked her young
family. Her husband and eight-year old son were killed and
Judith’s left hand was severely maimed from a machete blow.
Badly wounded, she fled with her remaining four children,
elderly mother and her sister to seek safety away from her
She came straight to the local church where she hid, with many
other families from the attacks and pillaging taking place
across the city.
Judith, whose home was looted said, ‘At night everyone sleeps
outside. We’re scared because there’s shooting at night. No-one
leaves the compound here, otherwise someone will kill you.
‘It’s very difficult here, we sleep on mats and we often have to
ask our neighbours for food as we have nothing to cook.
‘Whenever anyone has a need we help each other, there is a good
community here. There is even a school for my children, so they
can go to class five days a week.’
‘Before the attack, we had hope because we had our house. My
father used to work, but now he no longer can. There’s no work.
I hope that God one day will help us find something.’
She does not know yet when it will be safe to return and rebuild
her home and life with her family.
Yet despite the ongoing threats and sporadic outbreaks of
violence in the area she feels she’s in a safe place near the
If Judith is indeed lucky enough to get out of the C.A.R then
she could well meet up with such as Nicky Adams, Ren Cancan or
Mandy Bujold in the ring – and socially – in Rio. With only 12
places for women in the 51kg division, she could get a medal of
course but that seems highly unlikely taking into consideration
her lack of international experience. When medals are being
distributed on finals day, the AIBA should ensure that it – and
the I.O.C – reserve a very special GOLD Medal for Bravery for
Few outside the C.A.R know of Judith but one who does is one of
the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame (IWBHF) 2014
inductees, Dr. Christy Halbert
One who does know Judith is Dr. Christy Halbert, Ph.D, the Team
USA London 2012 Olympic coach and who has done as much as, if
not more than, anyone to have boxing for women included in the
Olympics as well as being a highly valued member for many years
of the governing body’s Women’s Commission. As a coach apart
from her Team USA duties, Halbert has also been actively
involved in the ‘ground breaking’ ‘Road to … series” . She was
actively involved in coaching Judith in the ‘Road to Jeju’ event
before the 2014 AIBA World’s in South Korea.
A former boxer herself, the Olympic coach is the Director of
Boxing Resource Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and became the
first researcher to publish on the social experiences of women
boxers in an scholarly article published in 1997, "Tough Enough
and Woman Enough."
No one will be prouder to see Judith take the ring in Rio, than
Halbert who tells us that:
“Judith was a participant in the Road to Jeju camp with me, and
competed at that World Championships in 2014.
She competed at 48kg, and lost in the first round of
competition. She's small for 51kg, and her best asset at this
moment may be that her opponents overlook her. But in boxing
just one punch can change a fight; every boxer has a ‘fighting
In this year’s African Confederation Olympic qualifier in
Cameroon, Judith went out 2:0 in the first round to Koketso
Dipugiso of Botswana.
As the AIBA reported at the time: “ The winners of the three
women’s Olympic weights were unveiled, with Moroccan Zohra Ez
Zahraoui beating Nigeria’s Caroline Linus to the first gold and
Rio quota place at flyweight after a frenetic contest.
With so much at stake, the lightweight final between Morocco’s
Hasnaa Lachgar and Tunisia’s Khouloud was a similarly tense
affair, with a delighted Lachgar narrowly edging the bout.
Khadija Mardi then made it a remarkable hat-trick of wins for
the Moroccan women’s team after she beat Cameroon number one
Yannick Azangue Aubiege.
WBAN has been in touch with the AIBA’s Communications team and
also emailed, AIBA Vice President and AFBC President Mr Kelani
from Togo with a view to their facilitating an interview with
Judith – sadly at the time of writing we have had no response
from either of the AIBA parties concerned but our offer remains
OPEN as we feel sure that our readers would love to hear more
about the brave.
Our thanks to TEARFUND and we feel sure that some of our readers
worldwide would like to know more about how they can assist
women like Judith in countries like the Central African
Republic, South Sudan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Syria, and many others and even in Manaíra City, north-east
L’eglise de Fatima is one of numerous sites around the Central
African Republic where frightened people are seeking sanctuary
Some 3,000 people are crammed into the church compound and
living conditions are difficult. But it says something for the
nature of the country's conflict that people prefer to be there
than in their homes. Attacks following a coup last year have
left 2.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
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