|Canadian women's boxer and Olympic medal hopeful Mary Spencer during a sparring session at the Windsor Amateur Boxing gym in Windsor, Ont., March 21, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)
TORONTO - Check out the Boxing Canada website.
Practically the entire front page is devoted to female boxing. The flashy pictures and art are all about womenís boxing, and the items listed under ĎLatest News & Eventsí all have to do with female boxing. Itís almost like the men donít exist. Itís quite shocking actually.
Whatís happened is, Canadaís female boxers have enjoyed much more success on the international level than the men in recent years. Because of that, the female boxers are getting almost all of the attention, while the men have become an afterthought. Which isnít fair. Menís boxing is one of the true global sports. Virtually every nation competes in menís boxing ó unlike winter sports (hockey, curling, etc), or sports that involve considerable funds to participate (rowing, cycling etc) or even female sports. Female boxing is growing, but most countries have yet to fully embrace the discipline. Heck, many nations still donít encourage or embrace girls participation in sport at all.
And so, not to take anything away from the likes of Canadian world champion Mary Spencer or her teammates on the womenís team, but the men face much deeper fields at international events and havenít had the results. So theyíve become largely forgotten. The vast majority of pre-Olympic media attention has been devoted to the Canadian women, and Spencer in particular.
But these are crucial times for the menís program, with the London Olympics just four months away. Boxing Canada will send a full team of 10 boxers to the 2012 AIBA American Olympic qualifying event, May 4-14 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Itís the final qualifying tournament for the men for the Olympics.
Typically, the Canadian men will be hard-pressed to qualify for London as the qualifying tournament will be extremely competitive, with few spots available. Like I mentioned before, practically every nation on Earth fields a strong boxing team, so just qualifying for the Olympics is a huge accomplishment. Canada only qualified one boxer (Adam Trupish) for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and five in 2004. The last Canadian to win a boxing medal was heavyweight David Defiagbon at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The last Canadian male to win gold was super heavyweight Lennox Lewis 24 years ago in Seoul.
Still, B.C. executive director Robert Crete is hopeful that four or five fighters from Canada will qualify for London down in Rio, but heís realistic. The number of spots open for London vary from weight class to weight class and the competition will be incredibly tough. The Canadian team will need some help from the draw.
ďA lot of it has to do with the draw, because thereís no seeding,Ē Cretes said. ďIt will be the luck of the draw.Ē In other words, donít draw a Cuban.
Gone on are the days when a boxer from Canada was virtually guaranteed a trip to the Olympics if he won the national title. With the number of male fighters allowed at the Games slashed (largely because of the inclusion of female boxing), and boxing becoming so popular worldwide, just getting to the Games is a huge mountain to climb, especially for fighters from the Americas. The Western Hemisphere fields some of the top amateur boxing teams in the world, including Cuba, the U.S. Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela ... to name a few.
ďWeíre competing against countries whose national sports are soccer, boxing and baseball,Ē said Crete. ĎItís unbelievable how popular boxing in these countries are. Itís a poor manís sport. All you need is a pair of trunks, a pair of running shoes and away you go.Ē
Boxing Canada desperately needs for some of their male boxers to step up and do well internationally because funding for amateur sport is so fickle. The weaker a national teamís results are globally, the less money the government contributes to that sport. And the less funding they get, the harder it is to compete at the highest level.
Thatís the way itís been with menís boxing for years.
Hopefully that will change starting next month in Rio.