Passionate leaders within the sport of boxing met on Saturday during a conclave.
The conclave, which was spearheaded by Bahamas Boxing Commission (BBC) Chairman Fred Sturrup, facilitated members of various boxing organizations. They met at the Castaways Resort in Grand Bahama to seriously discuss ways to revitalize and elevate the sport of boxing in the country.
In attendance along with Sturrup were Bahamas Boxing Federation (BBF) President Vincent Strachan, BBC member Deacon Wellington Miller, YMCA Executive Director Karon Pinder-Johnson, YMCA Boxing Director Nathan Davis, Retired Boxing Association (RBA) President Pat Strachan, BBC Treasurer Alvin Sargent and BBC Secretary Calvin Greene.
He pointed out that the minister expressed a desire for boxing leaders to make a joint effort to revitalize the sport.
“I can tell you that it is Minister Bowleg’s wish that the government’s arm of boxing, the commission, lead the initiative for the single focus of propelling boxing. He appreciates the difficult task ahead, but indicated that he stands committed to assist a united development effort,” said Sturrup who also heads the Grand Bahama Sports Promotion Association.
The conclave took place following a successful boxing show staged for students Friday. District Superintendent Ivan Butler, who coordinated the attendance of the students, called the event innovative and ideal for showing the youngsters that there are wholesome sporting options to help with their mental and physical growth.
On Saturday morning, Sturrup opened the floor with the question: “How do we revitalize the sport?”
Deacon Miller, a past federation president and former chief of the Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC), was first up. He expressed that locking in support from the government and private entities is vital. He added that lack of monetary support from the government and private sector in the past played a huge role in the sport taking a turn for the worse.
“When you look at it, when you give track and field, swimming, soccer, all those sports $60,000 a year, we give boxing only, I think, $10,000 a year. I must give the honorable Neville Wisdom credit. When he was there (Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture), he went beyond and gave boxing $25,000. Then when he came out of office it went back down to $10,000. We always start off with our Dominican Republic trip in February. That costs about $6,000 or $7,000; that’s our budget gone and from there we have to scrap,” said Miller.
He added that a commitment from coaches is also important, and throwing in a stipend for the coaches is warranted; not only for the hard work they put in with their fighters, but for the other ways the coaches go above and beyond the call of duty for the growth of the sport locally.
“We (coaches) make sacrifices and we all in here make sacrifices, which is good. I’m here today for the kids. Boxing is one of my first loves in sports. To look at myself being around boxing from when I was 13 years old and still being here, there must be something I love about it,” said Davis. “I was becoming entirely discouraged and yesterday’s boxing exhibition showed me how far we can go from here. If we can pull off events, we can go somewhere; but it takes commitment and sacrifice. It also takes money and time and no one wants to labor for free. I want to see something different and something to encourage me to go on. It’s important to give something to the coaches and the people putting in the time to make these things happen.”
As president of the BBF, Vincent Strachan reminded everyone that boxing is an international sport. He noted that there are 18 BBF-affiliated associations that span across the country, currently. It is challenging for the federation to do what it needs to do in terms of training and development without money, and Strachan noted that there are personal sacrifices that have to be made from time to time.
Using his recent trip to the International Boxing Association’s (IBA) Extraordinary Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, as an example, where money was scarce, Strachan noted that making that sacrifice was important to the betterment of the federation. He added that one of his chief priorities as president of the federation is the certification of coaches and officials. Strachan strongly feels that getting more judges, coaches and officials certified will help to bolster the national boxing product.
“I had no money but I went. Getting back into Miami, one of my children who lives in the United States had to pay for my hotel room and my Uber to get me to the airport. These are the sacrifices I had to make,” said Strachan. “I can tell you that one of the things I prioritize as president is the training of coaches and officials. I can say today that we have 15 certified referees and judges. We had a number of online courses where I reached out to a number of people within the boxing diaspora and those who responded took advantage of it. There are more to come. If you’re not equipped with the tools to train your athletes according to the standard that is being laid out for everybody, if you’re not a certified coach, you cannot go in your boxer’s corner at any internationally certified or IBA event. So, now there’s a three-level course for coaches and referees and judges – star one, star two and star three. In order to enter into any of those programs, you must be certified locally, which will give you regional certification in the Americas, which The Bahamas is a part of.”
To the fellow leaders present, Strachan stated that once a national program is put together there is a possibility of receiving financial support from IBA.
“Once we can have a wholesome program for the entire Bahamas, I can get IBA to give us $20,000. That’s the amount they give to every member of the association,” said Strachan. “We would have to put together a plan to present to them. At the end of the day, IBA would be willing to go further. We need to plan how we’re going to do some things.”
Pinder-Johnson noted that it would take strategic planning to achieve success without funding, something she said the YMCA has faced for years.
“How do we still offer programs when we don’t have funding? What we’ve done was start small and with starting small you have to remain consistent – strategic planning, exposure, and knowledge,” she said. “I’ve always loved boxing and this is the most I’ve known about the sport since we’ve been brought on. There are people who just love to watch the sport, so we need to tap into that domain as well. Then, we must upgrade. I’m looking at a wealth of knowledge in here and if we don’t do all we can to capture what’s in this room, boxing will not see the light of day past a certain point. We have to take advantage of this knowledge.”
As RBA president, Pat Strachan recalled 52 years ago, the glory years of boxing which included The Bahamas having numerous champions in the various divisions and bouts every month. Over time, he felt that boxing began to lose its audience due to the crime factor, and the cost of promoting fights. He echoed the sentiments of securing strong financial backing, but he also would like to see proper training facilities come on stream.
“The lack of proper training facilities, when you look at the accomplishments professional and amateur boxers have made to the development of sports in The Bahamas and you look at the facilities we have, it’s really a disgrace,” he said. “We have what they call a national boxing gym on Baillou Hill Road. I wouldn’t refer to it as a national boxing gym but I don’t know of any other place you can go and train in New Providence. I believe those things in a nutshell is what has caused the downgrade of boxing. If the minister of sports can put money into amateur boxing and we begin to build Freeport and the other Family Islands, we can bring the sport back.”
While financing was the major concern raised, Sargent shared that getting parents to see boxing in a different light is important. The BBC treasurer also shared that getting the media to convey a much more positive spin on the sport would be beneficial.
“At the end of the day, we need parental involvement. They need to get fully involved in their activities, and boxing is one of those sports we need them involved in,” he said. “The media – boxing has not gotten its full coverage as the kind of sport we can get kids involved in. It’s important to have the media on our side. For years, the media has demonstrated, taken a stance that boxing isn’t good for the kids. It’s barbaric. How does that help your program if the media is saying such things? We need them fully on board.”
At the end of the day, the conclave was said to be refreshing and a step in the right direction. It’s just up to the leaders now to put those plans in motion.