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English Rule Causes Furor
By James Riach – The Guradian
Why English amateur boxing has been left reeling by controversial rule
Coaches forced to prioritize either professional or amateur fighters
Grassroots boxing is going to suffer, fear coaches over Aiba ruling
Boxing coaches across England have warned that an international rule preventing crossover between the amateur and professional codes is having a disastrous effect at grassroots level and could see future generations hoping to emulate Amir Khan and Carl Froch lost to the sport.
A number of coaches believe regulations put in place by the International Boxing Association (Aiba) have had negative ramifications at pro-am gyms across the country, with some youngsters becoming disillusioned and falling out of the sport.
Aiba, world boxing’s governing body which runs international amateur competitions, states that professional coaches are banned from assisting fighters during its competitions. Since the Amateur Boxing Association of England reformed in 2013 and became England Boxing, it has had to comply with the worldwide regulations.
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It means English coaches – who are often involved at both levels of boxing – have had to make either professional or amateur fighters their priority. Many have been forced to concentrate on the professionals and are therefore no longer permitted to work with amateurs during competitions, resulting in a breakdown of confidence for some youngsters.
Steve O’Rourke, who coaches at Wodensborough amateur boxing club in Wednesbury, West Midlands, said: “Grassroots boxing is going to suffer. Without good amateur coaches you don’t get an Amir Khan or a Carl Froch. GB and England Boxing are given diamonds to polish, it’s the normal club coaches who work hundreds of hours a year, all voluntary and free of charge. I just think we’ve been sold down the river.
“Your local kids who take drugs, who get in trouble and come from poverty-stricken areas where it’s the norm to do unsociable things … people are going to close their gyms and those are the kids who will suffer.”
Stefy Bull, who manages and promotes 10 professionals including Gavin and Jamie McDonnell, believes the 50 carded amateurs at his gym in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, have suffered as a result.
“These kids are being kept off the street, we’re keeping them busy and active,” he said. “But first and foremost I am a professional promoter and manager. It’s my livelihood. I love the grassroots but I’ve now got no involvement in amateur boxing. I can’t go in the corner with these kids. It’s terrible, you’re trying to build relationships with these youngsters, give them confidence. It’s crazy. Apparently you can coach an amateur boxer but can’t go in their corner. You can’t get your head around it. What kind of rule is that?
“If you’ve got a great relationship with a young kid, who is listening to you in the gym, has trust in you and all of a sudden after weeks together they are in a fight, they look for you and you aren’t there; how does that youngster feel when the one person they trust isn’t there when they need them? Boxing is intimidating enough, even with support.”
Bull’s view is one echoed by a number of coaches across England. Dan Kelly works at Birkenhead Venture gym on Merseyside in one of the country’s most deprived areas. He said: “There have been seven or eight amateurs in recent months that have gone into tournaments without me in the corner and they have told me they’ve been devastated.
“I feel guilty. Some of them, the younger ones, don’t understand the politics of it all. Our gym is in one of the worst areas in Europe. We won a community award not so long ago for the kids we took off the streets. But we feel it’s being taken away from us by Aiba.”
Tom Chaney, the head coach at Hall Green Boxing Club in Birmingham, said: “You can still coach the kids, but you can’t drive them to a venue, you can’t get them weighed in. I have had good kids leave my gym because I can’t take them in. That’s not just me, it’s around the country. It has put amateur boxing backwards. I was nearly crying in the car, they have taken everything away.”
England Boxing formed a new board in late 2013 following a sustained period of in-fighting among administrators, which caused the organisation to lose a significant chunk of funding from Sport England. Having reformed, it is obliged to implement international rules as decreed by Aiba or it risks fighters being barred from international competitions and even the Olympics.
However, Rob McCracken has been the GB boxing performance director since 2009 and was the head of Britain’s team at London 2012. Throughout he has remained in the corner of Froch, the four-time super-middleweight world champion. Coaches cannot understand why it is permitted for an amateur official to be in a professional’s corner but not the other way around.
Giorgio Brugnoli, an England Boxing director and secretary of Aiba’s technical rules commission, says Aiba want fighters to have a career through its own competitions. It has recently launched its own professional tournament called Aiba Pro Boxing, in addition to Aiba Open Boxing bouts and the World Series of Boxing that has run for five years.
Brugnoli believes Aiba’s intentions are good but that the culture of professional boxing in England, run by the British Boxing Board of Control, means the regulations will always cause problems for coaches across the country.
“Aiba want a kid who starts in AOB to continue right the way through and have a career in boxing through Aiba,” said Brugnoli. “But it’s not possible with the British Board of Boxing Control. In England budding potential professionals would go through the BBBC. In Asia, Africa and a lot of countries there is no professional boxing. We live in a different boxing culture to those who box in Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for example. I do empathise with the coaches, I think they have a very strong argument. Why should a coach who has had a kid since the age of nine, 10, 11, 12 be told you can’t go in the corner with them when they box just because they’re professional. It’s wrong. I’m hopeful the situation can change.”
Daniel Geey, a sports lawyer at Fieldfisher, said: “Many individuals participating in amateur and professional boxing have been severely affected by the regulations the Aiba have put in place. No real rationale or justification has been given by Aiba as to why this artificial distinction is warranted or indeed necessary. Forcing coaches to choose between professional or amateur boxing is not acceptable. Unfortunately, Aiba has not substantively responded to our requests for rule clarification and we now must decide how best to take things forward.”
Aiba has recently undergone a change in personnel at the top of the organization which could have an impact on the regulations, with the French-Algerian Karim Bouzidi replacing the South Korean Ho Kim as the executive director, Kim having occupied the role for eight years.
Aiba said in a statement: “As the global governing body, responsible for the safety of all of our athletes around the world, Aiba has established clear and comprehensive rules for coaches who wish to participate in any or all of the three Aiba programs (AOB, WSB and APB).
“We have therefore organized and hosted special courses around the world for coaches to ensure that they can gain the Aiba certifications. However, in order to get the certifications, we urge coaches to only concentrate on Aiba programs and coaching management by parting with their professional boxing involvement as they need to be in our system to focus on our boxers and should not cross over all the time.”