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Judith Mbougnade - Bravest of the Brave in Rio 2016
by Michael O'Neill
July 16, 2016
Photo credit: TEARFUND

(JULY 16)  We are now but three weeks from the Opening Ceremony of the XXX1 Olympiad in Rio and soon the eyes of billions round the world will be watching in awe as sports stars will set dozens of new World and Olympic records.

After a brief respite it will be time for the Paralympics and even greater examples of courageous athletes reaching heights that most able bodied citizens would love to achieve.

Today though we take a look at boxing, a sport in which many greats have excelled over the years none more so than the recently deceased Muhammad Ali who as Cassius Clay took Olympic Gold in Rome back in 1960. So who will be the REAL star of the boxing ring in Rio?

For me that athlete will NOT be one of those who won a Gold medal, indeed almost certainly she will not even take home a medal. Coming from a journalist who has long admired the skills and exploits of such as Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields; Ren Cancan, Sofya Ochigava and Savannah Marshall that is some statement but then Judith Mbougnade from the Central African Republic is ‘one extraordinary’ woman who has faced more tragedy in her life than most and yet is virtually unknown on her own continent let alone in the AIBA world of boxing, ‘Amateur’ or Pro.

Unlike thousands of others who would dearly love to be one of the only 36 women to see action in Rio, Judith is simply praying that she can safely make it to Rio where she has been awarded one of the coveted AIBA/IOC ‘Tripartite Commission Invitation places. Last month here on WBAN we suggested that India’s Mary Kom, a 5 times world champion deserved the place at 51kg in recognition of all she had done for the sport and for the AIBA over many years. Mary would of course have been a great pick. That place has gone to the aforementioned Judith Mbougnade, and who could argue with that.

For the 2016 Games, the AIBA did not select boxers via the ‘Wild Card’ system as they had done in 2012, but instead they followed the Tripartite Commission scheme.

To be part of the Tripartite Commission the IOC/AIBA decrees that a country needs to be one of the National Olympic Commissions with eight or fewer athletes in individual sports/disciplines at the previous two Olympic Games and the nominations are subject to approval from AIBA and the Commission. Part of the thinking of course is that it will give weaker (boxing) countries the opportunity to grow their sport by having a representative at the Olympics. Others feel that the risks outweigh the advantages especially is say a young 18 years old from a TC country meets a World champion boxer at one of the heavier weights, especially for men but equally it could apply to women notably in the 75kg class. The risks are now arguably greater in the men’s sport with Professional boxers included in Rio.

Many parts of the African continent have suffered great loss of life and millions of people continue to starve to death or are tortured or murdered by evil regimes or die of malnutrition. Most get little media coverage nationally let alone internationally so let us tell you the background to Judith Mbougnade’s ‘Road to Rio’ with the aid of the International charity Tearfund, one of the many charities doing such valuable work behind the scenes in the war torn country.

Among them is boxer Judith Mbougnade, who was part of the 50-strong Central African Republic Sport team travelling across the region and competing internationally.

In December armed men came to her home and attacked her young family. Her husband and eight-year old son were killed and Judith’s left hand was severely maimed from a machete blow.

Badly wounded, she fled with her remaining four children, elderly mother and her sister to seek safety away from her attackers.

She came straight to the local church where she hid, with many other families from the attacks and pillaging taking place across the city.

Judith, whose home was looted said, ‘At night everyone sleeps outside. We’re scared because there’s shooting at night. No-one leaves the compound here, otherwise someone will kill you.

‘It’s very difficult here, we sleep on mats and we often have to ask our neighbours for food as we have nothing to cook.

‘Whenever anyone has a need we help each other, there is a good community here. There is even a school for my children, so they can go to class five days a week.’

‘Before the attack, we had hope because we had our house. My father used to work, but now he no longer can. There’s no work. I hope that God one day will help us find something.’

She does not know yet when it will be safe to return and rebuild her home and life with her family.

Yet despite the ongoing threats and sporadic outbreaks of violence in the area she feels she’s in a safe place near the church.

If Judith is indeed lucky enough to get out of the C.A.R then she could well meet up with such as Nicky Adams, Ren Cancan or Mandy Bujold in the ring – and socially – in Rio. With only 12 places for women in the 51kg division, she could get a medal of course but that seems highly unlikely taking into consideration her lack of international experience. When medals are being distributed on finals day, the AIBA should ensure that it – and the I.O.C – reserve a very special GOLD Medal for Bravery for Judith.

Few outside the C.A.R know of Judith but one who does is one of the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame (IWBHF) 2014 inductees, Dr. Christy Halbert

One who does know Judith is Dr. Christy Halbert, Ph.D, the Team USA London 2012 Olympic coach and who has done as much as, if not more than, anyone to have boxing for women included in the Olympics as well as being a highly valued member for many years of the governing body’s Women’s Commission. As a coach apart from her Team USA duties, Halbert has also been actively involved in the ‘ground breaking’ ‘Road to … series” . She was actively involved in coaching Judith in the ‘Road to Jeju’ event before the 2014 AIBA World’s in South Korea.

A former boxer herself, the Olympic coach is the Director of Boxing Resource Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and became the first researcher to publish on the social experiences of women boxers in an scholarly article published in 1997, "Tough Enough and Woman Enough."

No one will be prouder to see Judith take the ring in Rio, than Halbert who tells us that:

“Judith was a participant in the Road to Jeju camp with me, and competed at that World Championships in 2014.

She competed at 48kg, and lost in the first round of competition. She's small for 51kg, and her best asset at this moment may be that her opponents overlook her. But in boxing just one punch can change a fight; every boxer has a ‘fighting chance’.”

In this year’s African Confederation Olympic qualifier in Cameroon, Judith went out 2:0 in the first round to Koketso Dipugiso of Botswana.

As the AIBA reported at the time: “ The winners of the three women’s Olympic weights were unveiled, with Moroccan Zohra Ez Zahraoui beating Nigeria’s Caroline Linus to the first gold and Rio quota place at flyweight after a frenetic contest.

With so much at stake, the lightweight final between Morocco’s Hasnaa Lachgar and Tunisia’s Khouloud was a similarly tense affair, with a delighted Lachgar narrowly edging the bout. Khadija Mardi then made it a remarkable hat-trick of wins for the Moroccan women’s team after she beat Cameroon number one Yannick Azangue Aubiege.

WBAN has been in touch with the AIBA’s Communications team and also emailed, AIBA Vice President and AFBC President Mr Kelani Bayor

from Togo with a view to their facilitating an interview with Judith – sadly at the time of writing we have had no response from either of the AIBA parties concerned but our offer remains OPEN as we feel sure that our readers would love to hear more about the brave.

Our thanks to TEARFUND and we feel sure that some of our readers worldwide would like to know more about how they can assist women like Judith in countries like the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and many others and even in Manaíra City, north-east Brazil.

L’eglise de Fatima is one of numerous sites around the Central African Republic where frightened people are seeking sanctuary from violence.

Some 3,000 people are crammed into the church compound and living conditions are difficult. But it says something for the nature of the country's conflict that people prefer to be there than in their homes. Attacks following a coup last year have left 2.2 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

IF you would like to make a donation, however small, however large OR if your Company would like to so do, you will find all the contact information here:


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