BRING BOXING OUT OF ISOLATION
By Frank Warren
A BIT LIKE the Prime Minister, the sport of boxing found itself placed into isolation last week.
When the government finally revealed a £300m bounty designed to keep supposedly stricken sports afloat, boxing was once again cast in the role of odd man out.
Those who are speaking out in genuine dismay over the omission are not doing so on behalf of the top end of the professional spectrum. Like top flight football, we have found a way to make it work and we are all cutting out cloth accordingly.
Our operation – and that of several others who are delivering the boxing to a television audience – are not, and cannot, cater for the majority when it comes to the fighters affected by the current predicament. We are all doing our utmost, in trying and certainly not-for-profit circumstances, to keep our boxers in work and ensure they are not lost to the sport they love.
The others, perhaps 80-odd percent of licence holders, are on the shelf with most probably not even able to train due to their local gyms being forced to lock the doors or to operate in such a restricted fashion that it is simply not viable.
The same goes for thousands of young amateur boxers who, with the exception of the Lottery-funded Team GB elite up in Sheffield, are not able to box or train.
The amateur clubs up and down the country are so often the heartbeat of the local community, particularly in the inner cities and deprived areas.
The work these amateur boxing coaches carry out just cannot be dismissed or underestimated when a financial helping hand is being extended across such a range of sports.
These boxing hubs literally save lives and I don’t think the same can be said for the local golf course, badminton club, motor racing track or horse stables.
These safe havens promote and actually bring about physical fitness and wellbeing, discipline, respect for different cultures and integration, social cohesion and equality. The local boxing gym is where progress in the battle against obesity and the blight of anti-social behaviour and knife crime is so much more than just a soundbite.
Yet so many of these places are in peril, with a number having already heard the final bell and many more expected to follow. This is a crisis that needs addressing at parliamentary level.
After all, ministers are not slow to grasp the benefits of boxing when there is an election to be won. Boris Johnson himself is happy to don the gloves when he is in campaigning mode, while previously David Cameron was quick to attach himself to Amir Khan when he wanted to attract the votes of British-Asians.
I could show you the letters I have received over the years from political parties asking our fighters to attend photo opportunities to promote their cause in the run-up to elections. So they are well aware of the boxing upside when it suits them.
Going back to Amir, his Olympic silver medal back in 2004 inspired many thousands of British-Asians to take up the sport and the numbers making it through to professional level remain high to this day.
Indeed the British poster boy or girl from the Olympics staged in this century have predominantly come from boxing. From Audley Harrison in 2000 to Amir, from James DeGale in 2008 to Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams in 2012, with Nicola striking gold again in 2016.
Boxing delivers the goods from both a sporting and social perspective and not so many of the sports on the list for a handout can say the same.
I am sure many young boxers would like to try their hand at golf, motorsport or even tennis, but these activities are not available to them because they come at a cost that is beyond most families from non-privileged backgrounds.
The pursuits mentioned above, along with ice hockey and greyhound racing, are not sports for all, they are sports for if you can afford it, along with the equipment required to participate.
Boxing clubs are there for everyone. From keep-fitters to weight-watchers to kids low in confidence to those needing to channel energy in a positive fashion.
It is about so much more than fighting, but we must all fight to keep these clubs open so our young people remain engaged with sport and society.
To lose such clubs would be a fatal blow.
Over to you, Boris. You will be out of isolation next week so please instruct your minister for sport to punch his weight and bring boxing out of solitary.