By Sulayman Bah
When 84 out of the 88 affiliate delegates of the International Boxing Association took the audacious decision to scrap the controversial enactment banning professional boxers from taking any part in the Olympic Games, the response from across the boxing world was one of delirious surprise. Not that it wasn’t a welcomed move but on account it took far too long a time and not until an overwhelming campaign by delegates to loosen the rule.
And with three internationally known boxers on its radar, Gambia stood to benefit, making more feasible and bringing to reality, the country’s long dream of grabbing an Olympic gold medal in boxing.
Possibilities of ensuring the triumvirate of Badou Jack, Patrick Mendy and Omar Jatta –all being belt holders at one point – representing Gambia at next month’s Rio Olympics is a thrill difficult to overlook. But as one would later find out, the fairy tale wasn’t one to see light of day wrecking Gambia’s dreams of securing gold in boxing.
Affiliate countries ardent on sending boxers to Rio have to put their athletes through a mandatory qualification tournament in Venezuela and Azerbaijan where, like in athletics, they must attain a standard timing, to be assured of going to the Games.
Gambia couldn’t afford to put even a single boxer to the qualifiers and the reason was blamed on failure to beat the registration deadline, at least so we are told.
Chances of Badou Jack –the most decorated amongst the trio Gambia boxing aces – representing the fatherland, since from the setout, hung on thin thread giving he’s a World Boxing Council’s Super-middleweight champion and also needs to be permitted by his promotion team The Money Team before considering dropping level to box with amateurs in the Olympics.
But the remaining two, Omar Jatta and Patrick, had looked set out for the job at hand before twist of events scuppered their plans and snippet of details are beginning to surface offering to explain what might have went wrong resulting to Gambia’s non participation in Venezuela.
Boxer Patrick Mendy was willing to participate in the qualifiers but his acceptance came with conditions he insisted must be attained. The Whitehead resident asked to be paid 25,000 pounds to cover cost of boxing contracts he will be leaving behind to represent his birthplace.
The demanded sum, according to Mendy, also covers the 60,000 dalasi he was made to pay as rent fee for the boxing gym he erected as training centre free for homegrown-boxers in the country at the Independence Stadium.
‘We are talking about professional boxing. There is money in professional boxing and for me to stop everything like work, fights, contracts (and represent Gambia) what will I gain after leaving all that behind,’ the 25-year-old began, quizzing rhetorically.
‘Don’t forget I represented The Gambia in 2006 and that was for free. Secondly, I was in the country and I opened a boxing gym for free for the youths but they asked me to pay them for using the place. They told me to pay 60,000 Gambia Dalais as rent for the place,’ Mendy tells Foroyaa Sport from his home in the United Kingdom.
On not being able to fight in the Olympic Games, Patrick, who became the youngest Prizefighter winner in Britain seven years ago, said: ‘My chance (with regards to the Olympics) was in God’s hands and that means is not gone (forever) but that will not stop me moving (on). I feel mad (at not going) but is not the end because there is a lot I can do; not only winning, but to make a change in boxing in The Gambia. I can help the youths and teach them more about boxing’
Having seen plans of going to Rio hit the buffers, Mendy, who clinched his first professional IBF middleweight belt in 2015 in Russia, did not conclude without letting fly derides at the current boxing association.
‘Boxing is not about reading or asking others how it is run. The Gambia is our country and there is need to make changes with regards to the way boxing is run there. I was there (in Gambia) for long (on holidays) just to see what can be done but there is a lot going on there. We have to work together, as a team, stop fighting one another and let the experienced people help you’
Based in Austria, Omar Jatta is the other member of the triumvirate who came closest to being drafted for the Venezuela showdown.
‘This is a big mistake and shameful of The Gambia Boxing Association. They could have done this (registering athletes for the qualifiers) six to seven months before the Olympic Games,’ the 37 year-old, boasting sixteen wins, four draws and eleven loses in a combined thirty-one fights, says.
‘I am very sad missing my biggest chance representing The Gambia in Rio. And this chance will never come again. I’m proud to be a Gambian and I always love to represent my country no matter where I am. This was the last chance for me to represent The Gambia for the Olympic Games,’ he tells Foroyaa Sport from Salzburg, Austria.
‘But still, I will be representing The Gambia in abroad. The Gambia boxing Association (GBA) don’t want to do the job or they don’t know what to do,’ Omar who relinquished his belt to Turkish boxer Turgan months after winning it said, digging at the GBA for what he calls their ‘ineptitude’.
Patrick and Omar, Foroyaa Sport understands, were contacted via a third party who forwarded the boxers details to the GBA to be considered for selection.
The boxers’swipes at GBA come at times the country’s boxing governing body are grappling with realities of shock news of Gambia’s failure to partake in the Rio Games billed for August 5th.
Reacting, GBA’s boss Pa Alieu Jallow confirmed talking to both Patrick and Omar.
He said of the GBA drama with Mendy: ‘we contacted him. He sent us an email that Gambia should pay him 25,000 pounds for him to represent us. I have the email’
When told Patrick’s demands were in reference to his closed boxing gym, Jallow who wouldn’t be drawn into that topic, said: ‘I don’t know about that. I don’t want to go into topics that is none of my business’
Harping on Omar, Alieu claims he had never heard Omar ‘boxing professionally’ despite the erstwhile Global Boxing Council Middleweight champion statistics being littered on the internet, saying his executives had tried without success to verify the boxer’s details with the AiBa (International Boxing Association).
‘Omar Jatta has told us that he is a professional boxer. AiBa could not verify that as per the day when we were supposed to send the documents. So we have to send it to AiBa like that. AiBa never came back to us to tell us whether Omar has boxed professionally. Omar claimed that he had boxed professionally. Omar claimed to say that he has a website where we can verify. Now what we did was, we sent all these information to AiBa. It is not my decision neither the Gambia Boxing Association to make decision to select him. It is AiBa. But AiBa never got back to us about that.
On whether the boxing association forwarded the athlete’s information on time, Jallow who was out of the country at time of Speaking to Foroyaa Sport, ventured: ‘Well we have done what we were supposed to and we have sent it. Whether it was sent on time? I know we have sent it a day or two before the closure of the registrations because the information he gave us we couldn’t verify it. So what we had was to send the information the way he (Omar) sent it to us. I have never heard of Omar Jatta fighting professionally. He gave us a website that I couldn’t verify it. For the interest of the Gambia public, I have to send the information to AiBa. Now the question is whether Aiba have verified it or not, I don’t know. So I don’t want to insinuate something I don’t know.
‘.. Omar Jatta contacted me one week before the closure of registration. The guy contacted me six or seven days before the closure. And we did our best to be able to verify that information. So by the time Omar received the information, it was already three days left before closure of the registration.’
Had the boxers booked tickets to Rio, it would have seen a soar in number of Gambian athletes heading to South America. But with some sporting disciplines including boxing, missing, leaves the Gambia Olympic House little ‘worried’ and ‘unhappy’.
‘I am unhappy about boxing and other sporting associations not going to the Olympics. We wished all them to qualify for Rio. But this is the first time Gambia is sending athletes to Olympics with the standard timing. Two from athletics, one from Judo and Swimming,’
‘We as an NOC can only support them (the associations) including technical support. I wish they‘ve all qualified including our boxers to go to the Rio Olympics and that makes me unhappy,’ Momodou Dibba Gambia National Olympic Committee told Foroyaa Sport on Saturday.
Gambia’s four-man Olympics team comprises Papa Jonga (Swimming), Faye Njie (Judo), Adama Jammeh (Athletics) and Gina Bass (Athletics).