Amateurs seek help

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The Independent Online
Ian Irwin, Britain's boxing coach, yesterday appealed to professional promoters to leave leading amateurs free to compete in the Olympic Games.

John Morris, the secretary of the Boxing Board of Control, called for a single organisation to run both codes of the sport, thus helping amateurs in their campaign to reach the Games.

The lone British entry for the Atlanta Olympics is David Burke, the 21- year-old Liverpool featherweight who reached the semi-finals of the European Championships and then secured qualification by beating Scott Harrison of Scotland in an eliminator. Since the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Irwin has, for example, lost the heavyweight Danny Williams, the bantamweight Spencer Oliver and the light-welterweight Peter Richardson to the paid ranks. All three would have been candidates to go to Atlanta.

Irwin said: "I think what we've got to do is perhaps look after our amateurs better, giving more government support so they won't be as quick to turn professional. Then we could have some discussion with the professional people and say: 'At the moment it's all one way. At the end of the day you will get a better product if can you leave them with us until the end of the Olympic cycle.'

"We should have had people like Naseem Hamed going to the Olympics with us this year. But we have had an ever-increasing loss to the professional ranks. We've got one left from the last Commonwealth Games and none left from the Barcelona Olympics.

"For Barcelona, there were four qualifying tournaments. This time they decided to make the European Championships the only qualifier, which made it very, very tough.

"What made it tougher still was that they seeded any European boxer who reached the quarter-final of last year's World Championships. It was very sad indeed that Burke and Harrison had to box off because they are both featherweights.

"That should never happen again. Harrison won a European bronze and he's the only boxer to have won a medal and not go to the Olympics. That takes some accepting."

Morris replied: "My own personal belief is that there should be an umbrella organisation for all boxing in Britain. It should have sufficient powers to sustain a slightly higher age limit for people turning professional [which is 18 at the moment].

"That would give the amateurs that bit more continuity. Nineteen could be a start and that would be well received by the amateurs.

"I don't want it to appear that I am levelling any criticism at the England team, or those who prepared them. In their coach Ian Irwin they have a first class and very dedicated man. If they are disappointed, we are disappointed, so what do you do? You see if you can get together to do something about it, and what could we do in the next four years to produce a strong British amateur team for the Sydney Olympics."