South Africans sent to Havana to learn Cuban secrets

JOHANNESBURG, (Reuters) – South Africa’s lamentable  performance at the Commonwealth Games boxing tournament in Delhi  has prompted the country’s sports chiefs to send 10 of its best  fighters to Cuba in a bid to avoid similar failure at next  year’s London Olympics.

The four boxers who competed in Delhi failed to win a single  bout let alone a medal, continuing a decline that has seen no  South African Olympic boxing medallists since the country was  allowed back into the international fold.

Over the next few weeks a team of South Africans will study  the methods which have made Cuba an Olympic boxing powerhouse.

“It’s like sending soccer players to Brazil. Cuba are one of  the world’s top boxing nations and it’s very exciting for us,  we’ll get a lot of experience from the camp,” Lebogan Pilane,  one of the boxers who under-achieved in India and who will  benefit from the programme, told Reuters in Johannesburg on the  eve of the squad’s departure.

The diminutive Pilane, who hails from the mining town of  Welkom in the northern Free State, is an amateur light flyweight  champion in South Africa, but was part of the team which  returned empty-handed from the Commonwealth Games.

A stint with coaches of the Havana Boxing Federation could  help Pilane and his team mates stand more of a chance of making  an impact in London next year providing they mange to qualify,  according to Barries Barnard of the South African National  Amateur Boxing Organisation (SANABO).

“Cuba are one of the powerhouses of world boxing and I want  these guys to steal with the eye, bring back information from  Cuba so we can get our act together,” Barries said.

Cuba has led the way in Olympic boxing, with 32 gold medals  since 1968, and has a good relationship with South Africa dating  back to its support for the anti-Apartheid movement.

Gideon Sam, the president of the South African Sports  Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC), has identified  boxing as one of the sports that needs drastic improvement in  light of the disappointing performances since South Africa  returned from exile at the 1992 Olympics.

South Africa won four gold, four silver and eight bronze  boxing medals prior to isolation, but none since 1992, despite  the sport being one of the most popular in the country,  particularly in the previously-disadvantaged communities.

Barnard estimates that there are about 4,500 amateur boxers  in South Africa. “Many people have been saying it’s about time  boxing came to the party and brought home a medal,” he said.

London may even come to early for South Africa’s boxers but  Sam said they need to build for the future.

“We need a greater effort and we want to ensure as much  exposure as possible for our boxers,” he said.

“We had just one boxer qualify for the Beijing Olympics,  which is not good enough. If we want to be serious contenders,  then this programme is what we need to do.”

Both Sam and Barnard said South Africa’s lack of success in  amateur boxing was largely due to young prospects fleeing for  the paid ranks too soon in their careers.

“Too many coaches and trainers rush our youngsters into the  paid ranks, where they have one or two fights and then that’s  the end of them. We need to keep them longer in the amateur  ranks, cook them longer there,” Sam said.

     TOO EARLY

“The problem is, most of our boxers come from disadvantaged  areas and their parents want to see them earning money quickly.  My vision is to plough a lot of money into amateur boxing and  give a stipend to keep the wolf from the door.”

Barnard said he hoped South Africa will follow Cuba’s  example. “In Cuba they don’t turn professional, the boys go to  the Olympics for a second or third time. Their total attention  is on amateur boxing. “But one of the biggest problems in African boxing in  general is guys turning professional too early, the pros steal  from us, lure our guys away.

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