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Bitter truth about the sweet science in Ghana

Boxing Emmanuel "Mosquito" Addotei Addo (left) faces an opponent at Lebanon House in Accra. Photo by Atkilt Geleta. 

By Atkilt Geleta

Emmanuel Addotei Addo sits in the stands at Lebanon House Sports Centre in Accra, crouched in an oversized white hooded sweatshirt while patrons file in. If you didn’t know the 25-year-old national title contender, you would hardly assume he was about to fight a gifted opponent. He shows no nerves or trepidation, even with a promoter from New York sitting ringside who flew in to potentially sign the young prospect.

In an industry that relies on good management, promotion and suitable gyms and arenas, the infrastructure for a good boxing program in Ghana is seriously lacking. Unlike soccer, boxing receives no support from the government and minimal private funding. 

In the week leading up to the fight, Addo trained at Atto Quarshie gym, a facility full of aged and dilapidated equipment.

“Our boys train on cement, sometimes with makeshift gloves and without a mouthpiece,” says coach “Believer” Williams, General Secretary to the United Coach’s Association of Ghana. “It’s very risky.”

Still, boxing is the preferred sport in Accra’s Jamestown neighbourhood, which Addo calls home. Having produced several champions, the area is often equated with the sweet science among Ghanaians.

“Boxing is our everything,” says Addo. “It’s our main sport. It can make you be known worldwide.”

Growing up, Addo was nicknamed “mosquito” because of his small frame and quick punches. After spotting him fight on the beach, a fisherman brought him to the gym to train professionally. He was 15 and has never looked back.

Following in the footsteps of other Jamestown boxing greats—Azuma Nelson, Ike Kottey and Joshua Clottey—Addo trained exhaustively to fashion himself into a credible super featherweight contender in Ghana.

But with all his talent, he’s still struggling to find a promoter, and lacks a qualified manager to handle his business affairs.

“Ghana has great boxers but no management,” he laments. “We should have many world champions but they end up doing street work, stealing or construction.”

He relies on a meagre income from his small trading business to support his wife and child, who share a single room.

On fight night, Addo laces up his gloves and gives a lesson to his opponent, winning him on points in what Coach Williams later smugly says was the best six rounds of the night.

After the fight, the American promoter tells Addo he’s going to bring him to the U.S. to train at the end of June.

Addo refuses to get too excited. “I have a three-month-old baby,” he reminds me, “I’ll be happy when I start earning from boxing.”

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Africa Without Maps

  • There's so much more to Africa than predictable headlines about war, famine and AIDS. From Ghanaian beauty pageants to music in Malawi, Africa Without Maps provides a rare glimpse of life in Africa from Journalists for Human Rights interns on the ground.

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