THE opening ceremony is done, the draw is in and the first bouts are underway at the AIBA men’s World championships at the Stark Arena in Belgrade, Serbia.

For some boxers it’s been a long wait to get to this moment. Great Britain’s Harris Akbar had been biding his time during the last Olympic cycle. Now he gets his shot at one of the major international tournaments. He’ll have his first bout at the Worlds on Friday (October 29) at 71kgs.

“It was just waiting and believing in myself. For the past couple of years obviously being behind Pat McCormack, there wasn’t much I could do. I’m just glad GB’s given me this chance. My first major as a senior, I cannot wait for it to be honest. More than anything I’m excited,” he tells Boxing News.

But sparring with McCormack over the years developed him. “The most important thing it gave me was a lot of belief in myself. Because I was doing really well in sparring and they took me over to Tokyo to help him prepare for the Olympics. If I’m here helping the likes of him, who’s number one in the world and went on to win Olympic silver, the next person who’s going to be in front of me is not going to be nowhere near as good and I should be able to go out and be the better man at the end of the day. I think more importantly what he gave me is a lot of belief, I think. A lot of belief and confidence,” he said.

The stint in Tokyo also fuelled his ambition. “It gave me a lot more hunger towards the next Olympics. That’s what it gave me. I want it so bad now. That’s all I’ve been thinking about since I came back,” Harris continued. “I’ve prepared more than ever and I’m ready for whoever they put in front of me.”

With new weight classes in this event, Akbar had the option of going at 67kgs but chose to move up two kilos to 71kgs. “I’ve realised how much I like drinking water! I can eat a bit more, what I’ve done is put on a bit more muscle,” he says. “I could be the faster man as well… This is my first time at 71kgs as well, we’ll see how it goes.

“I think it’s just a matter of performing, a matter of boxing to your best ability now.”

If Akbar progresses, he could come across the very best in the sport. “I’m a competitive fighter. I’m not really worried about who’s in front of me. I know I’ll give anyone problems. So it’s a matter of just performing on the day really,” Harris said. “They’re not going to bring anything to the table I haven’t seen.

“It doesn’t matter who’s in front of you, you’re a world level competitor. All of us are world level competitors that’s going. We don’t care who’s in front of us, we’re there to box, and box as well as we can, and we’re always aiming to win.”

Akbar has a lot of faith in this new look GB team. “We train harder than the fights,” he said. “It’s been tough, real tough. We’ve been doing altitude training, hard runs, hard spars. We did a multi-nation camp where Germany, France, Scotland, Wales came in. It’s just been tough but it’s been really smart preparation and that’s the main thing behind it.

“To show people at world level, we will surprise a lot of people. We will surprise a lot of people.”

His GB teammates will be in action through the week. Niall Farrell has a great opening bout against French featherweight, Olympian Samuel Kistohurry on Thursday (October 28). Super-heavyweight Delicious Orie boxes on Thursday (October 28) against Mexico’s Luis Gómez Meneses. Light-heavy George Crotty meets Kyrgyzstan’s Omurbek Bekzhigit Uulu on Saturday (October 30).

In this event they are boxing for England. It means a Scotland team can enter this competition. Scottish welterweight Tyler Jolly boxes on Thursday (October 28). At 54kgs Matthew McHale meets Russia’s Kurban Bairanbekov on Friday (October 29). Middleweight Sam Hickey and light-welterweight Reese Lynch will be in action on Saturday (October 30).

Ireland also have a new team gaining experience at the elite level. Their featherweight Adam Hession takes on Russian Eduard Savvin on Thursday (October 28). Light-heavyweight Kelyn Cassidy boxes Mexico’s Said Olvera Arriaga on Saturday (October 30) and on the same day light-flyweight Ricky Nesbitt goes in with Uzbekistan’s Nodirjon Mirzakhmedov.

Don’t miss next week’s issue for reports from the action at the World championships so far.

It hasn’t been a smooth beginning to the tournament. Kosovo’s boxing team was not allowed to enter Serbia. Kosovo and Serbia have had strict border restrictions in place after Kosovo declared independence in 2008. This incident has prompted the IOC (the International Olympic Committee) to question AIBA’s conduct in bringing these World championships to Serbia. “It appears that AIBA has not applied the necessary due diligence before allocating this tournament to Belgrade, despite the fact that the IOC has repeatedly advised the international federations of the necessity of such due diligence,” the IOC stated.

“Therefore this incident, which is detrimental to the athletes of Kosovo, adds to the grave concerns that the IOC has with regard to the governance of this suspended international federation.”

AIBA had been trying to resolve the situation with the event hosts. They point out that it was detailed in the host city agreement, which the local organizing committee signed, that entry must be permitted. “AIBA is saddened by the political situation that has prevented the Kosovo boxing federation from participating,” they stated. “AIBA believes that sport should transcend politics and help break down barriers. Our World championships is an event where all countries are invited to come together and celebrate unity, diversity and friendship.”