BFK spell out tentative steps towards 'Hit squad' return to action

Earlier, the Anthony 'Jamal' Ombok-led federation submitted to the National Olympic Committee of Kenya a raft of guidelines it believes would create a safer and conducive environment for boxers to resume practice.

In Summary

• A national team training camp has been factored in with the noble intention to keep "Hit Squad" boxers in their best possible physical conditioning.

• The guidelines are intended as recommendations for the playing unit, coaching staff, and stakeholders to continue to enjoy and participate in the sport during the current global health emergency.

Kenya’s Elly Ajowi during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
Kenya’s Elly Ajowi during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
Image: / FILE

As sporting stakeholders learn to cope with consequences of the coronavirus, in some regions of the world, sporting activity is already taking shape minus spectators.

Locally, handlers of several sporting disciplines have had to mull over a safe and realistic return-to-action formula and Boxing Federation of Kenya (BFK) top brass are leaving nothing to chance. 

By and large, boxing authorities envisage tough times ahead for the fabled game of hooks and jabs, given the “Dos and Don’ts” that could change the state of the sport forever.

BFK is envisaging an elaborate initiative to resume training countrywide — once the government gives direction on the way forward.

And with 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games having been pushed to next year, a national team training camp has been factored in, thanks to the noble intention to keep 'Hit Squad' boxers in their best possible physical condition.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed has appointed a task force to look into protocols with in aim of drafting conditions to be met ahead of the resumption of sports activities in Kenya.

Earlier, the Anthony 'Jamal' Ombok-led federation submitted to the National Olympic Committee of Kenya a raft of guidelines it believes would create a safer and conducive environment for boxers to resume practice.

The guidelines are intended as recommendations for the playing unit, coaching staff and stakeholders to continue participating and enjoying the sport during the current global health situation.

Currently, key sporting meetings have gone virtual due to government lockdowns across the globe. This was aggregated with the stagnation in the aviation industry which is on its knees due to COVID-19 fears.

This meant mobility of sporting people was akin to mission impossible culminating into incessant cancellations and postponements of major events even though flights have now returned in some regions.

“The guidelines are a complement to the guidance, laws and regulations by the authorities, which will always take precedence,” remarked BFK Communication Director Duncan Kuria aka 'Sugar Ray'.

Kuria, a former national team captain, admits that the resumption plan won’t be a walk in the park as they have no magic wand to solve the problem.

Should the guidelines see the light of the day, BFK will have no choice but to saddle its playing unit with tough new rules in a bid to keep safe and play safe.

He is also quick to add that training under COVID-19 restrictions would call for concerted efforts from all and sundry if the mission is to come to fruition.

“With some sporting events slowly returning in various parts of the world, we have taken time to mull over a return to training. But as you all know, the government suspended quite a number of sporting activities under the social gathering directive which the Ministry of Health announced in March," he said.

"But after some time, we stumbled across a number of teams that had resumed training in total disregard of the restrictions. We intervened and stopped them. In addition, several teams have been asking for our advice on training issues and our response has been that boxers should train individually at the moment."

"They really have to avoid contact. A few weeks back we inquired from National Olympic Committee of Kenya (NOC-K) on how best our national team could resume training and we were told to prepare guidelines. These guidelines had versions from several federations and were to be submitted to the Ministry of Health for further assessment," revealed Kuria.

"But looking at the matter on a wider aspect, life in boxing may not be the same again. Of course, changes will have to affect our way of doing things since it’s a new normal.  But as experts would put it, we have to live with it,” Kuria said, adding that the BFK proposed guidelines are intended to restore hopes of boxers tormented by ripple effects of the pandemic.

“Our coaches are constantly being pestered by boxers on training issues which shows how hungry they are to return to the ring,” Kuria added.

For starters, all boxers will have to undergo a mandatory test for COVID-19 and those who turn out to be positive will be barred from accessing intended training sessions. A register of those accessing a training facility will be maintained. There will be no spectators in both training and competition scenarios.

What’s more, guides will be positioned at strategic gym entrances ostensibly to screen, usher in boxers and control traffic in and out of a venue. Posters will be placed in different positions in the venue to remind everyone of the measures that they need to observe at all times.

Floor markings will also be adopted in totality to keep boxers two metres apart while in session. All boxers will be required to wash their hands with soap and water prior to entry to the gym.

There will be sanitizers all over the place; then all equipment in the gym will have to be disinfected from time to time to ensure that they are safe for use by boxers. Sparring, pads workout and all contact training will be avoided. The training will focus on strength and conditioning  

To allow sufficient flow of oxygen boxers will have to remove their masks while training but must wear them on their way in and out of the gym.

The guidelines don’t just end there.  Coaches and trainers will be required to sanitize well in time and wear masks at all times.

Spitting is a common mannerism in the game of boxing given the energy-sapping nature of training and competition, but for purposes of fighting the invisible enemy, it will no doubt be a thing of the past according to the new proposed guidelines.

All participants in a training sessions will also be expected to carry their own water bottles which they will not share with anyone.

Boxers and their handlers will be required to come to the training venue already in their training gear and good to go for the session, which means after training showers will also be discouraged. Boxers will be required to vacate training venues when their training sessions are done and dusted, without visiting changing rooms — key focus being 'come in-train-go out.'

Due to the high risk of being reinfected after a negative test, it’s recommended that all boxers are confined to a residential training camp.

Being holed-up in one location ensures that the virus doesn’t spread.

The essence is to adhere to all World Health Organisation (WHO) requirements, over and above, directives issued by the Ministry of Health locally.

“Confining all boxers in camp is quite a challenge as it comes with cost implications. After testing, some boxers will continue using public transport which exposes them to virus and to mitigate against this we will have to conduct tests more often which is expensive," said Kuria.

"The alternative could mean that we keep them in a residential camp. Socialising after training will also be a thing of the past.” 

Kuria revealed that boxers are required to remain physically fit at all times and to be ready for war once the situation eases and boxers are allowed to return to the ring.

“When boxing resumes worldwide, European and American Olympic qualifiers will be the next in the quest for tickets to Tokyo 2020. Thereafter, there will be one qualification tournament for the rest of the world for those who will not have qualified by then and we still hope it will still be in Paris. This will no doubt offer us more slots. We have quite a number of boxers who failed to make it in the Dakar African qualifiers in February. We want our boxers to be at their very best at all times,” he added.

This year’s boxing calendar was distracted by the pandemic. The National Intermediate Championship ended unceremoniously when the government banned social gatherings. The event in Thika was called off just as boxers were preparing for the finals.

The Kenya Open Boxing Championship was scheduled for April to precede the National League in May.

Kuria observes that BFK may as well do away with the 2020 season should sports resume late in the year. He said: "If for instance, we are back around December, then we will be compelled to do away with 2020 and plan for the 2021 schedule.”

The current amateur boxing administration assumed office last year after the Boxing Association of Kenya (BAK) was renamed BFK. Jamal won the election to take over the reins from Mombasa based John Kameta after a protracted period of squabbling.

The new team has since had the ‘Hit Squad’ participate in two continental events. Kenya won one silver and four bronze medals at the 2019 All African Games in Rabat, Morocco.

The national team boxers got in their mitts one silver and three bronze medals, in the Africa Olympic Qualifiers in Dakar earlier in the year with two Tokyo Olympic Games tickets to boot for Nick Okoth” Commander” and Christine Ongare.

The solitary silver medal in Rabat went to career policeman Shaffi Bakari while the bronze medallists were Elly Ajowi, Frederick 'McGregor' Ramogi, Cosby Ouma of Police and Boniface Mugunde.