Female boxer Bolanle Shogbamu, gold medalist at the 2019 African Games in Morocco, talks about her boxing story and the challenges of sportswomen in Nigeria, in this interview.
Why did you decide to choose boxing ahead of other sports?
I loved boxing from a very tender age and despite venturing into other sports, I still found my way back to it. My love for the sport developed when I used to watch boxing movies. I saw several clips of Mohammed Ali and I loved the way he moved. I started boxing at the age of 17 and it’s been fun since then. My stepdad introduced me to a coach, Obanla, in Akure, Ondo State when he saw me watching boxing movies. He asked if I liked to box, I said, ‘yes.’ That’s how I got here.
What was the society’s reaction when you decided to become a boxer, since it’s a sport often associated with the male gender in Nigeria?
A lot of people laughed at me when I took interest in boxing. Some even referred to me as a tout because in Nigeria, people think boxers are troublemakers and touts, and that they are not well respected in the community. When I developed the passion for boxing, many people believed I wasn’t a serious person but now, they are thinking differently.
Did your parents support your dream of becoming a boxer?
My parents supported me fully because they’re also into sports. My brothers play football and squash. I went into sports at a very young age. I started with football but I wasn’t really good at it and no matter what I did, I always found my way back to boxing. I just think it is what I have been destined to do. Although I got support from my parents, my mother always threatened to stop me from the sport because I was a stubborn kid and always involved in fights. But my coach will always tell her that I’m good at it and should continue.
You are married to a boxer Waheed Sogbamu. Has the union contributed to you becoming a better boxer?
Yes, it did. My husband is a champion and he has impacted that mentality in me too. He helps me with training and tries to improve my conditioning. I won’t be as good as I am today if it wasn’t for him. I learn from him every day. Even when I’m tired, he encourages me to continue.
You were Nigeria’s sole gold medalist in boxing at the 2019 African Games in Morocco. How does this make you feel?
I am really delighted I won a gold medal for Nigeria at the last African Games in Morocco. It was my first time representing Team Nigeria at any international competition and coming back with a gold medal is something of joy to me and my family. I knew I could do it even before going for the Games because I was very prepared. I am happy every time I see the medal.
Do you hope to become a professional someday?
I do but I don’t pray to become a professional in Nigeria because they’re not well treated and promoted. Again, the money is not really there, but being a professional abroad is very interesting. You get good and quality fights and the money is way better. Even at the amateur level, we are not being treated well. It’s as bad when you become a professional.
The women’s game is still growing in Nigeria, so how easy has it been getting opponents for you here?
It is difficult getting female opponents to spar with, so most times I spar with male boxers. I spar with my husband too. My coach encourages it.
Do you agree parents should allow more of their female children to become boxers?
They should. Boxing is now a very respectable sport, even for females. And you can make a living from it. It is a lovely game that teaches girls how to defend themselves any time they’re in danger. Some people are scared that their faces may be disfigured but that is not true. There are several international female boxers and they don’t look disfigured despite several international boxing bouts.
What was the worst beating you received in the sport?
I haven’t received any hard beating from any female in the sport, but any time I spar with the male boxers, they never take it easy on me. They always feel they have to put me in my place.
Publicity and sponsorship for women boxers is low. How can this be reversed?
It has to be a collective work. The government needs to provide an enabling environment for the sport to thrive, while the media needs to help talk about women boxing and boxers on their platforms. This will definitely bring the needed exposure to the sport. A lot of money can be made from women’s boxing and a lot of girls are out there hoping to make a career from it.
What is your long-term goal as a boxer?
My long term goal is to win an Olympic medal for Nigeria and this is a dream I’m passionate about. That is why I believe I need to be at the Olympics.
Who is your boxing role model?
Waheed Shogbamu, my husband, is my role model. I look up to him every time for advice. He has represented Nigeria at several international events including the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
What was the attraction before you married your husband?
I think it was because of his gentle personality and I love him.
What was your first boxing experience like?
My first fight was when I was in school. I fought with a female champion during a school game and I won. Everyone was surprised.
Who’s the toughest opponent you’ve faced?
My toughest opponent ever was a woman I met at a championship in Cameroon in 2019, glory be to God I won. I can’t remember her name now, but she was really tough.
What are your pre-fight rituals?
The first thing I do before every fight is to pray to the Almighty Allah for victory and avoid injuries. After that, I do some little exercises to gear my body up.
Have you ever been harassed and had to defend yourself?
I haven’t. When you see me you’ll know that I can defend myself.
Do you think women can use boxing as defence against rapists?
Boxing can be used as self defence against rapists. A good knowledge of boxing will help girls know what needs to be done if you find yourself in such a dangerous situation. And that is why I think every girl child should have the knowledge of combat sports and boxing is one of them.
What are the best and worst moments of your career?
My best moments are every single moment I spend with my colleagues in training or in camp. There is always this family feeling that always makes me happy, while my worst moment was when I went to the African Games in Morocco and came back with a gold medal. But on arrival in Nigeria, there were no words of appreciation from the President and my state governor. I felt really bad at the lack of recognition and appreciation, but I will still continue to give my best every time. The worst part was when we were preparing last year for the National Sports Festival and we had to return home because of COVID-19.
What are the major challenges of sportswomen in Nigeria?
Sportswomen in Nigeria face a lot of challenges. Some of the challenges come from the family as they don’t want their girl-child to engage in sports, others come from the government, who has failed to fully support women in sports, as most sportswomen lack sponsorship.
Do you believe in equal pay for both sexes?
I believe in equal pay for both sexes because we are doing the same job. In the aspect of boxing, we take our time to train and go into the ring. We receive punches just like men do, so I think we should get equal pay.
How have you been able to combine motherhood and sports?
I am trying my best to combine motherhood with sports, but it’s not an easy task. The sport needs your full attention, so does your child, so I’ve had to find a balance to ensure that none suffers too much.
If you weren’t a boxer, what would you have been?
I would have been into clothing business. Fashion is another thing I’m very good and passionate at, aside from boxing.