S’pore amateur boxing on the ropes as frustrated athletes call for timeout from sport

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s amateur boxers have endured their share of blows in the ring over the years, but now, some of its top athletes are walking away due to the punches they are taking outside of it.

While professional boxing has been on the here in the last five years, the amateur scene – where athletes compete in major games – has flagged.

At the SEA Games in the Philippines last month, its four-member team returned with only one bronze medal, extending Singapore’s gold medal drought. Mohammed Mukhlis Amat last won a welterweight gold at the 1985 Bangkok Games.

A number of the Republic’s boxers have decided to step away from the sport for now as they are frustrated with the lack of funding, structured training and competition from the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association (Saba).

POOR PLANNING

Those who competed at the Games told The Straits Times that the result in Philippines was expected given the less-than-ideal preparations.

Flyweight Hanurdeen Hamid said a centralised training camp in Taiwan was cancelled due to “some issues”. He added: “Everything was disorganised. We were lost.”

As a result, all four boxers trained mostly with their respective trainers, instead of the twice-weekly sessions scheduled by Saba with national head coach David Alexis.

Hanurdeen spent $5,000 on a five-week camp in Japan, while light welterweight boxer Tay Jia Wei spent the same amount on a stint in Taiwan. Both trips were paid for by their own sponsors.

Female boxers Leona Hui (flyweight) and Danisha Mathialagan (light flyweight) travelled to Ireland with three local boxers for a week-long all-female sparring camp, with each athlete forking out about $2,000.

LACK OF FUNDS

Saba received just under $110,000 in overall government funding for the financial year ending March 2019, according to its most recent financial report.

For the same period, other combat sports like silat, wrestling and judo received $3.51 million, $572,017 and $266,516, respectively.

While national sports agency Sport Singapore has encouraged national sports associations to adopt multi-year planning that focuses on medium to long-term strategies, the national boxers, however, say this is missing from Saba as they are often notified of competitions only a month before, leaving little time to plan and diet for the different weight classes.

NO STRUCTURE

Former national boxer Muhamad Ridhwan, 32, who won bronze medals at three straight SEA Games from 2011 to 2015, turned professional in 2016 as he did not see a proper structure for continual development.

“Intensive training was restricted to only before major games, and for the rest of the year there was no plan to better our skills or help us gain experience,” he said.

“Singapore wants that (SEA Games) gold so badly, but there is not enough put in behind the scenes to reach that goal.”

This is one of the reasons why Hui and Tay have decided to put their boxing aspirations on hold.

Still only 24, physical trainer and boxing coach Tay said: “I felt I had more reasons to take a break than continue, but I don’t want to be entitled and blame the association or anyone else.”

Hanurdeen, 26, also considered stepping away from the sport, but said with a wry smile: “I’ve been boxing so long, it’s almost like an addiction already.”

NEW YEAR, NEW HOPE

Hanurdeen is hoping the new year will bring about a change in the way Saba trains its boxers. He pointed out that the lack of exposure at top level competitions has knock-on effects as performance stagnates and they lose the opportunity to earn nominations to the Asian or Commonwealth Games.

Former Commonwealth Games bronze medallist and 1972 Olympian Syed Abdul Kadir, has been Saba since 2010. The 71-year-old is hopeful that a new batch of younger boxers can step up for the 2021 SEA Games and he plans to increase the frequency of centralised national training sessions.

But he added: “More training is one thing, but they have their different clubs and different coaches. Boxers in other countries, once they are selected, train full-time with the national squad.

“Before the 2017 SEA Games we had a very good training camp in India. Still no one delivered. This is not an easy sport. To win gold, you need something special.

“Funding is an issue and we only have $20,000 for overseas competitions. But if we don’t deliver, we cannot complain about not receiving a lot of money.”

Former national boxing coach Arvind Lalwani said that Kadir needs to accept that he needs help to raise the sport, instead of taking on all the responsibilities.

He added: “He’s at the point where he should be sitting on the throne (of local amateur boxing) and getting the right people to do different jobs, delegating them. There is so much room for the amateur scene to grow.”

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