There is a positive case for boxing, and politicians need to make it, writes John Dennen
BRITAIN’S current Prime Minister is not the only party leader to pose in a boxing club for a photo op. But the image of Boris Johnson wielding a pair of gloves at an amateur gym sprang to mind when the sport was left wondering why it has been omitted from the government package for spectator sports at a time when boxing at all levels needs greater support.
“This time last year, in the midst of general election campaign, who’s standing there in a boxing ring?” says Chris Evans, Labour MP for Islwyn. “He was happy to do the photo opportunity, but where’s the money? This is what we need now.
“I was extremely disappointed and I can’t understand why they left boxing out of this.”
There are some boxing fans in the Houses of Parliament. Evans is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Boxing, a grouping of MPs across party lines. There is great value if this APPG can advocate for the sport in parliament and make other MPs aware of the sport’s benefits.
“How many of them are going in the gym, when the cameras aren’t around, to see the great work that’s being done? That’s one thing we try to push in the APPG, trying to get local MPs into boxing gyms. Not for sparring – there’s plenty of people out there who want to hit MPs in the face I’m sure of it – but we want them to get in there and see the work they do,” Evans said. “The challenge for us, prior to Covid 19, was to expand that interest beyond the hardcore fans of the APPG to other MPs to understand how boxing’s impacting on their constituencies.”
That can be difficult. Boxing can appear dangerous. But Evans notes, “[Boxing’s] attitude to concussion is far more advanced than what we’ve seen in football and rugby in the last few days. They have been aware of that for years and years, the measures in place through the Boxing Board of Control and in amateur boxing are light years ahead of what rugby and football do as well. So I think we are very well aware of those measures and we’re aware of those dangers more so than other sports.”
“Boxing shouldn’t shy away from this,” he adds. “Saying to them, this is what we do, this is what’s working for us… Is this something you can learn from?”
The risks of contact sport shouldn’t be overlooked but nor should the real benefits that boxing, notably, provides. These clubs provide health, fitness and much needed community in the most deprived parts of Britain. “The real unsung heroes of this are coaches. [If clubs have to close] what would replace them? That’s the big question,” appreciates Evans. “The extreme is those who have turned away from a life of crime because of boxing. Without it, it might be another avenue to go down. [Those going to boxing clubs] want the discipline, they want the fitness but above all they want their friends and socialisation. Those are the big things that we should be dealing with.
“Without that hope, what have they got? What have they got to look to?
“I worry about this real lack of hope.”
It is good for boxing to have a champion in parliament. But tangible action is what is most needed. Grassroots clubs need more funding. For amateur boxing to survive normal training and eventually competing needs to be permitted once again. Evans does understand that. “They can’t spar, they can’t do pads,” he said. “The sooner than ban is lifted the better and it’s better for the wider sport as well.
“I think there’s an inherent lack of understanding how the sport operates in this country from decision-makers at the top.”
The sooner that can be changed, the better.