Havyarimana Ornella’s World Championship run was a brief one.On Friday, she barely lasted two rounds against Laopeam Peamwila before the referee stopped the contest in her rival’s favour. The Burundi boxer was swiftly whisked away from the ring by Eric Ndayishimiye and Joseph Nkamicaniye, her two coaches.
Interestingly, the two are also officials from Federation Burundaise de Boxe (the East African nation’s boxing governing body). Joseph is the secretary while Eric is the president. The outcome would have been crushing for all as they had battled many fights to enter the flagship event.The dejected faces of those three was not a surprise. “I’m sad that I was eliminated. I have a strong desire to represent my country and do well. It is not by accident that I’m here,” Ornella said after the contest came to an end.
Ornella and her coaches had barely managed to raise money to fund their trip to New Delhi. Burundi has always been plagued by this issue, according to the two coaches. Initially, they had to make do with donations meant for Ornella and Joseph.
“We approached our government and told them our plight. They wanted to encourage us, and that’s how all three of us are here,” Joseph said.Also, they were keen to fulfil International Amateur Boxing Association’s (AIBA) criterion: take part in a key event for remaining affiliated to the international body, and attending the AIBA Congress meet. Undertaking that will help Burundi’s federation get much-needed support for staying relevant.
Another major issue for Burundi is that women in the nation are not encouraged to take up a physical sport, according to the coaches. In fact, Ornella is the only international women’s boxer from her country. “People raise eyebrows if they see women indulging in a sport like boxing. They say women cannot take up men’s sport,” Joseph remarked.
Unsurprisingly, that has resulted in their pool consisting of only a few boxers. The coaches revealed that there were other women who showed promise, but they quit due to lack of motivation. Some did so for starting a family. All this, according to the Joesph and Eric, is due to lack of competitions. “If you practice for two, three years and there is no participation, this is what happens.”
This has hindered Ornella’s progress, considering the paucity of good sparring partners the said problems have resulted in. Due to that, the coaches say that she trains with men at times.It was during a boys’ local meet when the two first spotted Ornella in Bujumbara, the capital of Burundi and her native city. Initially, they had their concerns, but they could not say no after the interest shown by the then 13-year-old. “She expressed her will to box. She was delighted to meet us. We were happy to take her under our wings and cater to her needs,” Joseph recollected.The two coaches managed to convince her parents, who run a small business. “We explained to them the pros of this sport, how it can help her. That is why she is here now,” Eric recalled.
This was the first time Ornella got to box at World Championships. She had been during the 2014 edition, only to be ignored at the last moment because of being overweight.
What makes that story more compelling is that the then 17-year-old had travelled all alone to Jeju City (South Korea) before she was forced to leave empty-handed. That journey also included four transits. “It was quite a terrifying experience. I didn’t know the language,” Ornella recalled.
She was funded by AIBA but Burundi was unable to send coaches along with the boxer. The international body had held a programme for helping underdeveloped countries, but it only covered for one person. As Ornella’s name had already been registered for the competition and AIBA had already booked her accommodation, they had to send her to avoid punishment.
“Our government was undergoing a financial crisis then,” reasoned Joseph. He and Eric sat her down for a talk about the required norms of etiquette, ticket details and other information she’d need to have a hassle-free journey.
Nevertheless, experiences in recent years have been a victory for both Ornella and Burundi’s boxing aspirations for the future. The youngster is determined to take this loss in her stride and build towards a stronger future. “I have been following other boxers. Once I reach home, I want to work harder to reduce the errors that I’d committed. Maybe in the next competition, I will come back stronger.”
Her coaches are equally positive. “She has failed here not because she is not strong. It’s because of fear and lack of experience. It’s her first time in a big ring like this. But she is strong and motivated,” observed Joseph.Ornella’s bout may have lasted for just five minutes, but the experience she gleaned from them is bound to last forever for her.