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How Ugandan boxers were eliminated

Ugandan boxing captain Joshua Tukamuhebwa claimed his first win in the Paris Olympics qualifiers in Busto Arsizio, Italy, in March.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On July 5, Uganda unveiled a team of 25 athletes that will represent the country at the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympic Games, scheduled for July 26 to August 11, 2024. A total of 10,500 athletes will compete in 329 events at 32 different venues.

Unlike the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, where Uganda had three boxers on the team – Catherine Nanziri, David Ssemujju and Shadir Musa Bwogi – this time around, the country will not have a single boxer representing it in one of its historically most successful Olympic disciplines.

Prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, boxing was Uganda’s most successful sport at the Olympics, with a total of four medals – three silver and one bronze. However, the current state of the sport in the country does not guarantee a bright future, as no athlete is willing to fight for Uganda’s legacy in Paris.

This is the third time that Uganda will attend the Olympics without a boxer, after previous cases in 1976 (due to a continental boycott) and 2012 (due to administrative problems within the Boxing Federation).

How did we get here?

The Paris 2024 Olympic Boxing Games qualifiers were split into three windows in which boxers could compete for a spot at the Paris Summer Games. These included continental qualifiers and two world qualification tournaments: one in Busto Arsizio, Italy, held in March 2024, and the other in Bangkok, Thailand, held from 23 May to 3 June 2024.

Last year, the International Olympic Committee made changes to the continental qualifiers, reducing the number of places available to just 13 boxers (seven men and six women), down from 50 at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. For men, there were only seven weight classes and only the gold medallist in each category would qualify for the Olympics, unlike in 2020, where 22 boxers from eight categories qualified.

This reduction meant that the African tournament had very limited places and that only the gold medallists in each weight category earned the right to represent the continent in Paris. This made it extremely difficult for any Ugandan boxer to secure a place, especially as the Ugandan team started its preparations very late. All six boxers who represented the country in the Dakar qualifiers were eliminated early on.

This left the Ugandan team with only two qualifying windows to secure Olympians for the Paris Games: Busto Arsizio, Italy, and Bangkok, Thailand. When the Ugandan team left for Italy, the four boxers still faced stiff competition.

“As expected, our last boxer in the Olympic qualifiers is out. No boxer has qualified for the Olympics in Italy. We have one more last chance to qualify a boxer for the Olympics with the third and final Olympic qualifier in May 2024 in Thailand,” said Moses Muhangi, president of the Uganda Boxing Federation, after the qualifiers in Italy.

The series of disappointments began when Shafick Mawanda lost by a wide margin to Singaporean Teo Wei Xuan in the men’s 51kg category due to not arriving at the venue on time. Muhangi attributed this to the organising committee’s failure to provide a team manager to travel with the contingent.

Later, Yusuf Nkobeza lost to Romanian Andrei Aradoaie 5-0 in the preliminary round of 64 of the men’s 80kg category, leaving the burden on captain Tukamuhebwa and boxer Emily Nakalema, who were also eliminated.

Before being knocked out, Tukamuhebwa had been the only hope after winning his first two bouts. He defeated Guatemalan Garcia Edgar in the preliminary phase of the men’s 63kg category before beating Romanian Robert Jitaru by split decision to qualify for the round of 16, where he eventually lost to Jordanian Alkasbeh Obada.

Meanwhile, Emily Nakalema, who had received a bye, lost to Cape Verdean Ivanusa Moreira 5-0 in the women’s 66kg category. “I hope this time our bosses at the National Sports Council and the Uganda Olympic Committee will listen to us as a Federation and fully support us as needed without interference,” Muhangi said earlier.

This competition represented the penultimate chance for the Ugandan four-man boxing team to secure at least one of the 49 qualifying spots for the Paris Summer Olympics. However, they failed to qualify and were hoping for success in the Bangkok qualifiers.

In Bangkok, Uganda’s last attempt saw three representatives: former Olympian Shadir Musa Bwogi, Muzamir Kakande and Australian star Regarn Ssimbwa. Unfortunately, none of the three secured any of the 28 spots available for male boxers.

Heavyweight boxer Ssimbwa, who had shown potential after advancing to the round of 16, eventually lost to American Jamar Talley 5-0, ending Uganda’s hopes of having a boxer at the Paris Summer Games.

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URN

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