Punching hard to keep boxing alive
Jan Bergman used to take his fists to a knife fight when he was growing up in the tough streets of Toekomsrus, a township in Gauteng's West Rand.
The former WBU welterweight champion's father would send him back to face his tormentors if he came home after having been robbed in a fight.
Now the 47-year-old Bergman, who hung up his boxing gloves six years ago and is now a trainer, is a frustrated man and dealing with a challenge more daunting than his scraps with thugs in the streets as a boy.
He is worried that the sport that helped make him and many other boxers household names is dying a slow death in South Africa, especially among members of the coloured community.
Such is the dearth of coloured boxers that IBO junior lightweight holder Malcom Klassen and little-known prospects Joshua Studdard from Sophiatown, and Ronald Malindi from Brixton, are the only ones currently fighting in the local boxing fraternity.
Bergman said this was the strongest sign that there was hardly any interest in the sport these days.
''There are no gyms where I come from, so how do you expect youngsters to join?" asked Bergman.
''I am in discussion with a councillor to see how best they can help us."
Trainer Brendon Hulley and former boxer Peter Faver weighed in and said that boxing in general was facing massive problems.
Youngsters would rather pursue potentially lucrative careers in football and cricket than burden themselves with the problems that continue to plague the fistic sport, they said.
''Purses are also not lucrative as they used to be back in the day," Hulley said.
''Youngsters now think of soccer and cricket because there is big money in those sporting codes. You also need regular tournaments in our areas. One tournament per year will never attract new blood.
"I think the powers-that-be must take boxing back to the schools, catch them when they are still young. Otherwise you can forget it.
''The prominence of coloured boxers came during the apartheid regime, when there was segregation.
"The relaxation of apartheid laws under the new government, allowing people to live anywhere around the country, impacted on boxing in coloured communities, because most trainers of yesteryear moved out of their areas and relocated to the suburbs," said Bergman.
In the golden years there was no shortage of boxers from the coloured community and there were gladiators like Gregory Clark, Chris and Derrick Whiteboy, Aladin Stevens and Gerald Isaacs, among others.
The Whiteboys, Stevens and Isaacs were national champions.
Other achievers were Bergman, Daniel Ward, Earl Morais and Klassen.
Bergman, Ward, Morais and Klassen stood the test of time in the latest crop.
Bergman won the WBU welterweight strap, while Ward, from Westbury, captured the Commonwealth (then British Empire) flyweight crown.
Klassen, a former IBF junior lightweight holder, is also from Toekomsrus. But he is on the wrong side of 35.
''I think that when old-time trainers passed away, most guys quit," Faver, who is now a trainer, continued.
''Back then you had about 30 guys in the streets all doing boxing. Currently, our boys are into football and body-building.
''If anything is to happen then it must begin with the amateur ranks, which is the feeder to the professionals."
Bergman said while the situation was considered dire, he would not give up and would continue to knock on many doors.
- TMG Digital