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Bukom, quarry of boxing champions in Ghana

Bukom, quarry of boxing champions in Ghana

Parkins Takyi-Aidoo, a 13-year-old from Ghana, leaps agilely in front of the training bag as he punches it violently, trusting that the strength of his fists is his passport to glory, far from his humble neighborhood.

This teenager already has a bonus to become a professional: he trains in Bukom “the Mecca of boxing”, as this fishing district in the capital, Accra, is known.

Bukom, on the Atlantic coast, saw the growth of practically all the professional boxers in the country, and maintains a certain parallel with Iten, the Kenyan nursery of the best marathon runners in the world.

Although in Bukom there are no great plains and the constructions are light, the asphalt has replaced the dirt roads, but as in Iten, the boys look with admiration at the successes of their elders, and with the same ambition to become champions .

Parkins attends this small open-air club every day, where he trains for several hours as the waves hit the Accra coast.

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“Champions are built here,” he told AFP while wiping the sweat from his forehead. “But you have to be determined to work hard.”

“Thats what I think. That’s why I’m here, “he adds.

In the outer courtyard of a small house that serves as a training room, the coach paints a yellow circle on the ground.

Two old punching bags worn by use hang in one corner, and several weights rusted by time in the sea air rest another corner.

But it is better not to be influenced by appearances. Seven world boxing champions are originally from Ghana, and almost all of them hail from this neighborhood, where old semi-abandoned colonial mansions are interspersed with shacks.

Bukom’s new youth idol is 2008 IBF (International Boxing Federation) champion Joshua Clottey at welterweight.

But the most legendary boxer remains Azumah Nelson, a revered figure in the country.

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Azumah, from Bukom, won three WBC (World Boxing Council) titles, featherweight and super featherweight, in the 1980s and 1990s and is considered one of the greatest African fighters.

– «To become someone –

The small club Parkins trains for was founded by Ike Quartey, another star of the ring, the WBA welterweight world champion from 1994 to 1997.

One of the coaches, Prince Owusu, 37, explains the success of boxing because of the poverty that is shaking the Accra fishing district. “Thanks to boxing they can become someone in the future,” he says.

Of course, not everyone will be a champion, but this sport can offer job opportunities in a country with a high unemployment rate, and where the cost of education is unaffordable for many young people.

The discipline that this sport requires makes these young ideal candidates to become policemen or private security agents.

“Knowing how to fight, self-defense, is already an advantage to find work,” continues Owusu. A virtue especially valued when one is born into a family of fishermen, far from the glitter of gold and oil in the country.

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“Most of the people in Bukom are illiterate,” explains Peter Zwennes, president of the Ghana Boxing Association.

“Many young people, since they cannot go to school, substitute boxing for education from an early age.”

Soccer remains the most popular sport in Ghana, but the current government, in the midst of an election campaign, favors boxing “to train the talents that Ghana is blessed with,” in the words of President John Dramani Mahama during the inauguration of a sports complex in Bukom a weeks ago.

With two gyms, physiotherapists, a huge press room, and an outdoor venue with capacity for 4,000 people, the complex will give life to the neighborhood and promote a sport practiced by the most underprivileged. (AFP)

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