By Alan Hubbard
How long will it be before boxing is back on the box? We await the word from the great referee in Downing Street to “box on”.
Personally I can’t wait to hear the dulcet tones of BT’s John Rawling and Barry Jones telling us how it is, albeit from the eerie atmosphere of crowd-free hall or studio, hopefully early in July.
Interestingly the two boxers in the ring – and their cornermen will also hear the commentary from them because of the absence of cheering and loud exhortations of ”C’mon my son!”. This will give them some idea of how they are doing and whether they need to raise their game.
Once the fists start flying again behind closed doors it will be a whole new broad brawl game.
The sport is gearing up for a behind-closed-doors return in the UK in July, after being shut down in most countries across the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
At least boxing seems to leading the fight in being prepared for professional sport’s lockdown knockdown.
Young boxers in the Queensberry stable, including the seven newcomers signed by Frank Warren, will be champing at the gumshield, ready for action.
As you may have seen from some of their Lockdown Diaries, the Queensberry lads seem to have found ways of keeping themselves fit during this unfortunate lull in proceedings. No sparring of course – it is difficult to hit land a jab when you are two metres apart.
Social distancing can’t be applied when the first bell rings for real of course but there are other strictures which will give boxing a very different look.
Fighters at British shows will wear protective masks during ring walks and be banned from using a spit bucket between rounds.
It is likely a sealed plastic bag will be used to dispose of any spittle and blood. Referees and trainers in the fighters’ corners must wear protective masks throughout any event and proposals include thorough testing of all those involved.
In a five-page consultation document sent to UK promoters, the British Boxing Board of Control says a July restart will initially see events contain no more than five bouts and no “championship contests”.
The document sets out proposed rules which include:
• Fight shows to begin without any fans.
• Boxers, referees and trainers will be transported to the venue wearing personal protective masks.
• A fighter may remove their protective mask when inside the ring – but referees and teams in the corner must keep theirs on.
• Boxers may not spit in their respective corners.
• No ring announcers, ring cart girls or television cameras inside the ring.
• All proposed venues must be reviewed by the BBBoC and “cleaned to a medical standard” before the event.
• Only “essential” officials, promoters and broadcasters can attend.
• Individuals in high-risk categories such as pregnant women, those “seriously overweight” or people with diabetes should not attend.
• Everyone at an event must be tested for COVID-19.
• All boxers, trainers and referees must be tested for COVID-19 48 hours before fight night and self-isolate at a hotel until their test result is known.
I suspect that boxers will be asked to break with tradition by not embracing at the end of the contest.
Some of us had a taste of what combat sport is like in the ‘new normal’ when the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) staged an event in Florida recently which was screened by BT, with all officials masked and combatants washed down with antiseptic between rounds.
It was surreal to say the least. But as Lewis Hamilton said of motor racing’s proposed return at Silverstone in July with only the roar of the engines and not the crowd: “It’s better than nothing.” Isn’t it?
A BEWITCHED, bothered and beleaguered Boris Johnson gave short shrift to competitive sport when he jiggled the key of the lockdown in Britain recently.
This is not to say he washed his hands of sport, so to speak, but it is clear that in the present circumstances it is not his number one priority.
Maybe that is as it should be but there are those who believe it needs to be given more immediate attention to raise the morale of the British nation as well as relieving the increasing boredom of being stuck indoors.
However, we are told that, as in several other countries who have been somewhat ahead of the game as far as COVID-19 is concerned, we can now exercise more freely, even play golf – though taking a snifter at the nineteenth hole within the clubhouse is a no-no – tennis and go fishing, with one other person, preferably from the same household, as long as the necessary social distancing is observed. At least, that is my interpretation as things become more baffling and confusing by the day.
It is certainly no walk in the park – though that is actually allowed now.
WUNDERBAR! ! The Bundesliga is back behind closed doors and was welcomed on TV here even though some of the games seemed more like training sessions with little, or no tackling.
And talking of tackles , there were plenty to be seen this week by ITV viewers who have been following the three-part documentary “Harry’s Heroes: Euro Having A Laugh”. We rubbed out eyes in amazement at a bizarre encounter screened as part of the series.
The team of England veterans, managed by the ubiquitous King of the Jungle Harry Redknapp which includes such notables as Matt Le Tissier, Paul Merson and an outrageously overweight “Razor” Ruddock, played a team of Parisian amateurs in France as part of their warm-up for a return engagement with a team of German veteran internationals.
And I kid you not – the opposition was stark naked!! Save for boots and socks. Ooh la la!
Bizarre as it was the nude Frenchmen, who apparently play all the friendlies in the altogether, took things very seriously. A bemused David Seaman seemed to be watching more than one ball as he let a fifth goal slide past him in a 5-5 draw.
Always the wag, Harry mused: “They are quite hard in the tackle, these guys.”
As always he was having a laugh, something we could all do with at the moment.
SOME SAD news. The doyen of boxing writers, Sydney Hulls, passed away in retirement on Thursday, aged 97. Nothing to do with the coronavirus. The avuncular scribe who wrote on boxing – and several other sports – for the Daily Express, for all his working life fell while on cruise earlier this year from which he never really recovered. A long-time widower, Syd was a good friend who was popular with all sports folk. The son of a famous pre-war boxing promoter, also named Sydney, he knew the game inside out and those of us who sat at ringside and travelled the world with him, much enjoying the company of this old school bon viveur, will miss him greatly, as will boxing.