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Olympic star languishing in Muthurwa

He lived large, drove sleek cars and travelled the globe. But all that is a distant dream for two-time All Africa Games light flyweight gold medallist Suleiman Bilali. He now lives in squalor.

Typical of sportsmen who did the country proud during their heyday but ended up in misery when the glory days were gone – the once talented boxer has been reduced to a beggar.

Currently, Bilali leads a deplorable life at the condemned Muthurwa estate and said he had never imagined that he would sink that low.

His is a painful story to tell, for he literally fell from grace to grass. The former boxer now survives on handouts and hustling by selling second hand clothes and shoes.

Head injury

A mental condition brought on by a head injury sustained in an accident during a training in 1998 almost shattered the two-time African champion’s life.

“I was jogging on Thika road when a car ran over my right leg. I dislocated my left shoulder and sustained a head injury, which to date causes me memory lapses,” said Bilali.

After a two-year hiatus, he limped back into the ring and went through fights on pain killers. Bilali was determined to get back onto his feet. He bounced back and qualified for the following Olympics.

“I had just won at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games qualifies in Egypt and as I celebrated, I received news that my wife had delivered a baby girl,” Bilali said of the match he would never forget.

In 2004, another misfortune struck. He slipped and fell while boarding a matatu on Juja road and a vehicle ran over him.

Pensively, Bilali narrated how agonising the two-year recovery period was, as his career hang in the balance.

Fortunately, he resumed training and made the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

“I regained my footing because of self-drive and the determination to represent my country,” said Bilali.

His prowess earned him Head of State commendations from retired presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki.

Finest boxers

Bilali who started his career at nine years and rose to the senior ranks, is regarded as one of the finest boxers Kenya has had. He followed in the footsteps of his elder brother Ibrahim who won a flyweight bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Bilali, a former General Service Unit officer said his greatest pain was being discharged from duty, empty-handed on medical grounds after 15 years of service.

As if that is not enough, he lost all his investments and wealth through dubious means after his family and friends took advantage of his mental state.

“I forgave them because they are human, but I know God has good plans for me and He would never forsake me,” he said with tears dancing in his eyes.

A month ago, Boxing Association of Kenya pledged to organise a funds drive for him, but Bilali dismissed them as users.

He wishes to resume boxing as a coach in readiness for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Bilali’s immediate plan, however, is to open a youth development academy to nurture sports men and women at a young age so that they do not fall victim of drug abuse.

The chairman of Muthurwa Residents Welfare Association Patrick Kamotho said lack of recreation facilities had deprived boxers of training venues. Kamotho said most of the social halls that were previously used by boxers had been turned into meeting places.

Improve standards

“Bilali’s talent was nurtured at Muthurwa Social Hall but now sports such as boxing are not given priority. For sports to grow, authorities need to make deliberate efforts to improve standards,” said Kamotho.

Bilali was born in 1978 and has represented Kenya at various international championships. He won the All African Games light flyweight titles in 2003 in Abuja and 2007 in Algiers.

During the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, he lost to Spaniard Rafael Lozano in the quarter-finals. Lozano went on to clinch the runners-up position.

At the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, he lost to India’s Ali Qamar.

Bilali neither participated in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games nor the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

He made the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games but was knocked out in his first bout.