Gloves off in Dehli

Kabelo Dipholo
FOCUSED: Veteran boxer Aratwa Kasemang

Indian initiation for women boxers dreaming of Olympics

Botswana Boxing Association (BoBA) has sent a three-woman battalion to the IBA Women World Boxing Championships in New Dehli, India with one mission in mind: qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Team BW is made up of: Commonwealth bronze medallist, Lethabo Modukanele (50kg), Aratwa Kasemang (66kg) and promising young talent, Phekile Bele (54kg).

Accompanied by Coach, Thebe Setlalekgosi and his Assistant, Gibson Rauwe, the trio left for the Asian nation on Sunday and are expected back on 29th March.

77 countries will take part in what is the tournament’s 13th edition, with preliminary bouts starting on Thursday (16th) and continuing through to Tuesday 21st.

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First to test her mettle on the world stage is Bele, who squares off against Moldova’s Lulia Coroliat at 1800hrs local time (1430hrs in Bots) in the 52-54kg category.

Two days later, in the 63-66kg welterweight category, Kasemang will entertain Cape Verde opponent, Ivanusa Moreira Gomes, ranked second in the division.

Botswana’s Bronze Bomber from last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Modukanele, will also hope to progress to the next round when she comes up against Nepal’s Asmita Duwal on Sunday, with the bout again scheduled for 1800hrs.

The diminutive 27-year-old Mahalapye lass, who first laced up the gloves back in 2016, rose to prominence by defeating Sri Lanka’s Nadeeka Pushmukari to clinch a bronze medal, punching her way into the history book to become BW’s first female boxer to win a medal at the Commonwealth.

In doing so, Modukanele ended the country’s 12-year wait for success in the Commonwealth ring, a drought that dated back to New Delhi 2010.

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Indeed, Botswana have happy memories of their time in the Indian capital, especially Tirafalo Seoko (bantamweight) and Oteng Oteng (flyweight), who clinched silver and bronze at the Games.

Speaking to Voice Sport from their camp in New Dehli, Coach Setlalekgosi said he was confident in his team and believes the girls have the ability to book their plane ticket to France.

“Two of the girls are veterans. I expect Modukanele and Kasemang to make it to the semis,” stated Setlalekgosi, adding this would be good enough to secure Olympic qualification.

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Setlalekgosi, who has been with the team for a year, revealed Bele was primarily brought in to give her a feel of the world stage as she’s still a developing boxer.

“Making it past the first and second rounds will be an achievement for her. Our target is to prepare her for the Africa Championships, where we believe she can do very well,” he told Voice Sport.

The coach further pointed out that while they are going all out to try and earn their places in Paris, this was far from last-chance saloon as the team will still have other opportunities.

“Should we fail, we still have the Africa Championships, which is a much easier route,” he said.

According to Setlalekgosi, in Africa, making it to the podium is all it takes for one to get an Olympic berth.

“We’re confident because in the past Championships all our boxers finished on the podium,” he said.

Despite less than ideal preparations, including a lack of action locally, Setlalekgosi expects his girls to rise to the occasion.

“I always tell them that they are semi-professionals and should be in a position to compete whenever they are called, they should not wait for a national team call-up to get fit!”

With flight tickets and accommodation fully funded by IBA, the girls are expected to leave their sweat and blood on the canvas at the 6,000-seater KD Jadhav Indoor Hall.

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