Future of boxing ‘bright in Bahrain’

Omar Salman Al Slaise was optimistic.

The president of the Bahrain Boxing Federation (BBF) had just hung up the president of the Bahrain Rugby Football Club (BRFC) on the phone. “We were discussing the possibility of having another tournament like the Royal Rumble,” he said animatedly. “It looks like we’re going to shake things up soon.”

The Royal Rumble, a charity event held last Saturday, saw boxers from the Bahrain Royal Guard face off against opponents from the British Army’s Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. A huge success – it generated just under 60,000 BD for the designated charity, Bahrain’s Royal Humanitarian Foundation – the Rumble also saw the Guards win eight of nine closely contested bouts.

“The 8-1 score was a surprise, to be honest,” said Al Slaise. “I was told it would probably end up being around 50-50. But the scorecard highlights the kind of talent we have and the progress we’re making.

The future of boxing in Bahrain is bright, he said.

As the federation aims to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024, Al Slaise said, five young boxers from a rapidly expanding group had already been named as hopefuls for extensive training camps, which would be held in Bahrain and in other countries, such as Canada, England and Holland.

“Boxing has a process, a philosophy, a mindset,” Al Slaise said. “So while these boys may have incredible natural talents, these training camps will allow them to hone their skills.”

For example, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, held in 2021 after a year-long delay caused by Covid-19, Bahrain’s only entry, the country’s first in the boxing competition, is was trained at GB Boxing’s elite facilities in England, Al Slaise explained.

“GB Boxing trains the best male and female boxers in England, Scotland and Wales,” said Al Slaise. “Danis Latypov, our entry into the super heavyweight division in Tokyo, trained in GB for a few months as part of their World Class Performance Program (WCPP). He was even able to train once with Anthony Joshua, the former heavyweight champion!

The 6’4″ Russian-born boxer didn’t make it past the first round in Tokyo. “But that didn’t matter,” Al Slaise pointed out. “The degree of interest in his trip to and in the Olympics proved to be a big boost for sports in Bahrain. The result was unimportant. Of course, we would have liked to see him progress, but he was an excellent ambassador for us and a champion with spirit.

There were now plans, Al Slaise said, to capitalize on the interest and exposure generated by Latypov’s Olympic journey.

“We focus on local and infrastructure development,” said Al Slaise. “We are engaging with schools and hopefully soon we will have a larger pool of international level athletes to choose from. There is a lot of interest in sports in general in Bahrain and boxing is becoming very popular.

Among the immediate plans is the search for a female coach. “We have to be respectful of Bahraini culture,” Al Slaise explained. “Some of the girls and women who want to train as boxers might not be comfortable with a male trainer, so we have to take that into consideration.”

In the long term, the sport’s growing popularity meant the BBF could also aim to stage a global boxing event, such as a global heavyweight bout, Al Slaise said. “That would be in the not too distant future. I can’t give a specific timeline, but maybe in the next few years we might be well equipped to host an event like this.

Bahrain is no stranger to hosting global events with the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, a popular annual feature in the international racing circuit since 2004. The kingdom has also hosted various international mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions ) during the last years.

During this time, Al Slaise said, the federation was grateful for the continued support and patronage of the First Vice President of the Supreme Youth and Sports Council, the President of the General Sports Authority and the President of the Olympic Committee of Bahrain, Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

“It would be remiss of me not to mention Tony Davis, our national trainer and technical advisor, who has been single-handedly responsible for the progress our boxers have made over the past few years,” Al Slaise said. “And I am convinced that, under his tutelage, our boxers will have an impact in Paris.”

In the meantime, there are plans to make the Royal Rumble an annual event, to be hosted alternately by Bahrain and England each year, Al Slaise said.

“The benefits will be manifold for our boxers,” he explained. “They will be able to train in foreign conditions, train with the best in the industry, before the Rumble when it is in England. This will contribute to their development exponentially.

But before that, Al Slaise said he was grateful to BRFC chairman Mike Cunningham and his club for helping organize the Rumble.

“He was absolutely phenomenal,” said Al Slaise. “It wouldn’t have been possible without him and his club’s support.”

Now, as he looked to the future and all he had in store for boxing in Bahrain, Al Slaise was optimistic.

“We are preparing for the Asian Games in September,” he said. “Some of our boxers will soon travel to Romania to train there. Romania has very good training facilities and our boys will benefit from the experience.

Appointed by Shaikh Khalid to his post last December, Al Slaise has praised former BBF presidents.

“We’ve come a long way in a relatively short time,” he said. “Credit goes, obviously, to my predecessors who really laid the foundation for where we are now. I’m just continuing the good work they started.

Catching up with the sport, Al Slaise said he also started following the boxing training regimen.

“It’s healthy and it’s fun,” he laughed. “Quite taxing, physically, but very fulfilling.”

Boxing will be one of the sports on display during National Sports Day, a three-day event organized by the Sports for All Association of Bahrain which kicks off today at the Bahrain International Circuit.