A record number of 272 boxers from 39 countries have registered for this month’s International Boxing Association (AIBA) African Olympic Qualification Event at the Paposy boxing venue in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé.
The continent’s best male and female boxers will be vying for the 36 qualification places – 30 men’s and six women’s – on offer for Rio 2016 from 11-19 March.
Moroccan welterweight Mohammed Rabii, the World Series of Boxing (WSB) Boxer of the Year for 2015, and four other athletes from the continent have already qualified.
Besides Rabii, Morocco’s Achraf Kharroubi, Algerians Abdelkader Chadi and Ilyas Abbadi, and Egypt’s Hosam Abdin are also ensured of a place at Rio 2016.
AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) fighter Mohamed Arjaoui and Rabii’s younger brother Hamza represent Morocco’s strongest chances of getting more qualifiers.
Algeria’s World Championship silver medalist Mohamed Flissi and two-time Olympian Abdelhafid Benchabla will also be among the favourites to reach Rio 2016.
“The African continent’s boxers continue to show their prowess and strength at AIBA boxing events, as highlighted by Morocco’s Mohammed Rabii who was crowned the first African AIBA world champion in Doha in 2015,” said AIBA President C. K. Wu.
“With a record number of entries and 36 spots available to the men and women in Yaoundé, this tournament is a key route to Rio 2016 Olympic Games and I am looking forward to an intense competition for the coveted places, ” Wu said.
Hosts Cameroon have high hopes for rising young star Wilfried Dieudonne Seyi Ntsengue and Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria all have experienced boxers going for gold.
Nigerian boxers are already preparing for the qualifying tournament with a camp opened at the Brai Ayonote Gym inside the National Stadium in Lagos a few weeks ago.
The boxers are undergoing training under the tutelage of coaches such as Obisia Nwankpa, Jerry Okorodudu, Tony Konyewachi and a host of others.
Among the women’s favourites at the Cameroon tournament will be Algeria’s young flyweight Souhila Bouchene and Nigeria’s All-Africa Games champion Edith Agu Ogoke.
“This is a hugely important competition for these boxers and the pressure will be enormous,” said Kelani Bayor, President of the African Boxing Confederation.
“So many elements need to come together to make it to an Olympic Games, and the success stories will be those athletes who have prepared well and can cope with that pressure.
“I’m confident we will experience a memorable tournament in a country which has a long boxing tradition with passionate fans ready to support the best boxers on the continent.”
Wu told insidethegames that plans to roll-out Olympic boxing to all professional fighters are in line with the sporting spirit of inclusivity and claimed the risk of injury is not as great as has been claimed by former top fighters like Lennox Lewis.
Wu’s plans, theoretically raising the possibility for some of the world’s highest-paid professional stars to compete at Rio 2016, have been fiercely criticised by some fighters and organisations.
They have warned it could pose possible health risks and potentially allow professional fighters to compete at the expense of those who have spent the last four years chasing qualification.