A damn disgrace - by Pete Moscardi

Before it adopted its present title of Boxing South Africa (BSA), the statutory body tasked with the responsibility of controlling and regulating professional boxing in South Africa operated under the mantle of the South African National Boxing Board of Control. It was, admittedly, a somewhat cumbersome title. But contained in it was a key word which defined the very raison d’etre for its existence. That word was ‘CONTROL’. The current name under which this body functions is far more streamlined and much easier on the tongue. But it has a diluted feel to it without that key word - regardless of the fact that its function and responsibilities have not altered one iota.

It is the word “CONTROL’ which demands close inspection, as it would appear that there has been a redundancy in its application over the past few years. Ugly and unpalatable incidents such as the notorious Laila Ali/Joe Manyati affair, and the Siphato Handi scandal of the delayed payment to three Mexican fighters, among other such gratuitous happenings, have conspired to place the efficiency and integrity of BSA under the spotlight.

But the purpose of this article is not to apportion blame wholly and solely at the feet of BSA, although they have to be considered a leading member of the cast in this disgraceful farce. Also appearing on the stage King Ramathe – a man who has only recently made an appearance from nowhere on the boxing scene and who has assumed the title of Boxing Promoter.

In the latter part of last year, Thinus Strydom, founder and owner (at that time) of World Sports Promotions, made it known that he wanted out. He put his promotional operation up for sale and, from out of the left field, King Ramathe purchased the company. Eric Strydom, Thinus’s son, was made a 40 percent shareholder under the new owners in the group, with decision making and signing rights.

Ramathe went about looking for his first promotion and approached the African representative of the World Boxing Foundation, Howard Goldberg for, in the first instance, assistance in putting together a top-of-the-bill contest and, secondly, the necessary sanction for it to be recognised as a WBF title fight.

Takalani Ndlovu, then under the control of Nick Durandt, was the nominal half of the main event. Ramathi expressed his wish to match him against a top international opponent. Goldberg, on his admitted own volition, undertook to assist the promoter. Numerous telephone calls were made around the world, and a substantial amount of time and money was spent in attempts to secure an acceptable opponent for Ndlovu (for which, incidentally, Goldberg has never been compensated).

Jackson Asiku, was secured and it looked like a done deal. However, the plug was pulled at a late stage on Asiku as it was said that his purse demands were too excessive. Goldberg resumed the search and came up with the South African junior-featherweight champion, Oscar Chauke. The deal was done and the fight was scheduled to take place at the Graceland Casino in Secunda on 17 March.

Goldberg takes up the story.” Everything was made crystal clear to Mr Ramathe. The sanction fee, the cost of the belt and the remuneration to the four officials assigned to this fight were all explained in detail. The agreement was that the money for the above would be either paid into the WBF’s South African account – or directly into its head office bank account in Australia one week prior to the event taking place. I began to have misgivings when this did not happen. My concerns proved justified when, the day before the tournament, King informed me that he was unable to produce the money to pay the sanction fee, the officials’ wages and the money for the belt. I was really staggered by this. The fight was scheduled to take place on a Friday (17 March) and King begged me, in the presence of two senior BSA licensed officials, to grant him an extension, promising that he would make full payment the following Wednesday. I felt I could not let down the fighters, nor could I let down SABC TV’s Blow by Blow programme, which had contracted to show the fight live. I reluctantly agreed to King’s request – although I would have been quite in my rights to decline it and pull out my officials, pack the belt back in its box and withdraw the WBF’s sanction of the fight

“Suffice it to say that, in spite of numerous telephone calls, and numerous broken promises, the money ($8 600) remains unpaid. The matter turned ugly and, inevitably, reached the ears of the press. A good deal of publicity was given to the incident which reflected badly on both boxing in general and the WBF in particular,” he explains.

Pressured by the adverse media coverage of this situation, Loyiso Mtya, acting
chief executive of BSA, convened a meeting between Goldberg and Ramathe which took place at the Emperor’s Palace Hotel on 14 June. Goldberg flew up from Cape Town at his own expense to attend the meeting. What emerged was an assurance made by Ramathe that the outstanding debt would be deposited in the WBF’s bank
account the following day. Goldberg, in turn, was asked to agree that a statement would be made to the media in which he would admit that “matters could have been handled differently”. Goldberg kept to the agreement, making this statement the following day at a meeting in Mtya’s office at which members of the boxing media, together with other BSA license holders, were present. Ramathe failed to keep his side of the agreement and, at time of writing, the $8 600 is still outstanding and the WBF has now instructed its lawyers to pursue the matter. At long last, and not without a considerable degree of reluctance, BSA recently took some action and revoked WSP’s license, thus canceling a proposed WB0 All-Africa title fight WSP had scheduled to put on in September.

In the ethos of best journalistic principles and balanced reporting, I contacted King Ramathe to obtain his side of the story. The explanation I was given was so bizarre, improbable and implausible that it smacked of a fantasy cooked up by Walt Disney. It is not even worth repeating. However, I checked it out and a telephone call to Nick Durandt revealed that Mr Ramathe’s story was one that had been conjured up by a vivid imagination. In short, it did not begin to hold up.

Fast forward this story to 7 August. The place is Bloemfontein and the promoter is Blackie Seoe of Robs promotions, and a major promotion featuring three WBF title fights is scheduled for that night. Two Mexican fighters and their agent, Zeke Luna, are sitting in the foyer of the President Hotel with worried looks. A third fighter, Hungarian Attila Kovacs, is also sitting in the foyer looking depressed. The time is 16.00 and Luna reveals that there is no sign of the purse money for Kovacs, or for world rated Francisco Lorenzo or the unbeaten Mexican super-middleweight, Rigoberto Alvarez who are down to fight Bongani Mwelase, Mlungisi Dlamini and William Gare respectively.

Luna, the same agent who brought over the three Mexican fighters who experienced purse payment problems with promoter Siphato Handi in East London,
has an expression on his face which says: ‘I’ve been through all this before’. There is a strong presence of déjà vu in the air. A frantic Howard Goldberg, together with Loyiso Mtya who is present and privy to the drama unfolding itself, have their cell phones permanently attached to their ears as they try to make contact with the promoter. Luna is repeating the same mantra that came from his lips in East London : "If we don’t see the money then no one is going to get to see the fighters”.

At 18.00 Goldberg and Mtya, who had been called away to a meeting with the
promoter, return to the hotel. Goldberg has a bulging envelope in his arms which contains the purse money in US dollars for the two Mexican fighters and Kovacs.

He confirms that he has been given proof that the money for his officials and the sanction fee has been deposited in his account. The tournament is saved at the 11th hour – with the show’s starting time a mere 90 minutes away.

Here are questions that need answering: What happened to the implementation of the 30-day rule which is in the regulations contained in the Boxing Act and which stipulates that purse moneys have to be submitted to BSA 30 days prior to the date of the the tournament, or by such other date as specified by BSA? Why was this not implemented – particularly as the Handi debacle came close to resulting in a disaster of major proportions which would have had significant international connotations? And, more pertinently, where is the CONTROL? Perhaps Mr Mtya should be asked to tell us if and how he actually exercises any CONTROL over the affairs of boxing in South Africa.