Amateur boxing in England has received its biggest boost since Amir Khan captured the Olympic silver medal in Athens two years ago and sent hordes of youngsters scurrying to local clubs to punch the bags and ultimately their opponents. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines have become the amateur game's first major sponsors with a £200,000 investment over the next four years.
It comes at a time when the number of boxers competing in England has almost doubled and the country is represented on the international governing body, AIBA, for the first time in a quarter of a century.
At AIBA's annual convention in Santo Domingo last weekend, Paul King, chief executive of the ABA of England, was voted on to the ruling council with Terry Smith, of Wales, bringing UK influence on an organisation that has been hit by controversy and last week saw their long-standing president, Anwar Chowdhry of Pakistan, deposed after 20 years.
Chowdhry, 84, known as the godfather of amateur boxing, was the longest-serving head in world sport. He lost a bitter election battle by four votes to Taiwan's 60-year-old Dr Ching Kuo Wu, an International Olympic Commitee member who intends to bring "justice and democracy to an organisation with a shameful past". Chowdhry had faced allegations of financial irregularities.
The change could have huge implications for a sport that has been under serious scrutiny by the IOC, although it has cleaned up its act in recent years regarding corrupt ringside judging with a new computer scoring system.
The elevation of Liverpudlian King is also good news, the Navy's new funding underwriting two major junior championships for the next four years, for 12 to 14-year-olds and 15 to 17. The Navy hope to gain new recruits from amateur clubs in return. "Boxing teaches dedication, a good mindset, discipline and the right attitude," says Captain Chris Alcock. "We find that young boxers are perfect role models for service personnel."
With three other big sponsorship deals in the pipeline and a new BBC contract, things seem to be looking up for a sport which has suffered a few bloody noses from the politically-correct corner. "I believe we have turned things round," says King. "There is a new vitality about the ABA. Our junior squad is the best we have had for years, and though we are the only Olympic sport which loses talent to the professionals, we have managed to hang on to most of the successful Commonwealth Games team."
There are more than 12,000 registered amateurs in England - 9,000 of them juniors - and King says: "We rode on the back of the Amir factor but there is more to it than that. We now have eight development officers working around the country and we are going into schools with a structured programme. Kids are keen to put the gloves on again and soon we expect to be among the top 10 participation sports in the country. The ABA have progressed more in the last 12 months than in the last 50 years."
But despite the Navy's blue-chip sponsorship, the ABA are involved in a bout of in-fighting with principal Lottery distributors UK Sport, who do not deem them "fit for purpose" and withhold substantial élite funding, claiming the ABA need to work with a GB umbrella organisation to oversee Olympic strategy.
The ABA counter that they fear UK Sport are trying to control some aspects of the sport and say the government-backed body "lack empathy", which is denied. The next round takes place on Tuesday. Seconds out.Reuse content