I expected a packed hall, full of supporters willing the fighters on as the action unfolded but instead the number didn’t live up to expectations. It was simply the impassioned willing on by the team-mates of the two fighters in the ring.
I was at the very roots of the sport of boxing.
The venue hosting the event belongs to a parastatal company. The railway tracks neighbouring the hall belied the rags to riches stories that often come in a sport that promises a lot and has the ability to ultimately take away.
Team South Africa rose to their feet to support young Spesihle Mthethwa, featuring in his first-ever international bout, having only recently joined the elite team. They willed him on as he was hit by an onslaught from his vastly experienced Angolan opponent Adilson Justino.
There was no denying that the South African was up against it but he showed the type of heart and determination so often found in young hungry boxers that almost forces respect.
Here was a guy who put his body on the line for his country. There are no cheques involved, the only form of remuneration Mthethwa received was a hug and words from his clearly proud coach and the handshakes and consolation hugs from the rest of his team.
I was reminded by Andile Mafu, president of South Africa’s amateur federation, that this may not have happened had boardroom issues not been resolved. It would have robbed a group of young boxers the chance to gain international experience.
It provided a stark reality that sportsmen and women sometimes suffer at the hands of those supposedly looking after their best interests. While these boxers were sweating away in the gym a group in ivory towers conspired to take away their opportunity.
It’s a dangerous game and battle lines are always drawn. Another thought crossed my mind, what if administrators could perform the same way these amateur boxers do. On passion and talent alone with no remuneration involved.
After all passion is a major motivator. It fires the fighters on to perform well for their country, yes ultimately they have a personal agenda in terms of wanting success and medals, but in the unpaid ranks it’s the crest on the front of the shirt that’s more important.