Boxing: Amir and Audley nurture the roots
Helping hand for the amateurs
Britain's two Olympic boxing heroes, Amir Khan and Audley Harrison, have volunteered to assist their former amateur comrades their preparation for next year's Commonwealth Games.
The iconic duo, who were both in action in Frank Warren's 25th anniversary promotion at London's ExcCel Centre last night, say they are happy to offer their services to help secure a golden return in Melbourne.
Amir, the lightweight silver medallist in Athens, is joining a special training camp at Crystal Palace in the new year to spar with members of the England team. Harrison, who was Britain's first Olympic gold medal winner for 32 years at super-heavyweight in Sydney, is inviting the two selected heavy hopes, the Yorkshireman Danny Price and Liverpool's David Price - they are unrelated - to work with him at his gymnasium in Las Vegas.
Says Amir: "I am delighted to help out and I am looking forward to seeing my old mates again. I don't regret turning professional when I did but if I am honest I do miss the amateur scene. I always enjoyed the squad training sessions and the company of the lads I knocked around with. There was a lot of camaraderie. With them I feel I can be myself, there's no pressure on me."
In Harrison's case it is a sort of two-for-the-Price of one. Heavyweight Danny is a a surprise choice over both the current ABA champion Tony Bellew and the current Commonwealth Games gold medallist David. And while he did not fare as well as he had hoped in the recent world championships the 6ft 7in David claims the super-heavyweight spot and could well benefit from tuition from the 6ft 5in Harrison.
The fact that amateurs and pros are now coming together both in the ring and out in a spirit of gloved glasnost is a timely boost for the sport which has had to pick itself up after so many defections to the paid ranks. But at least this will cease in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
In a historic move the British Boxing Board of Control and the Amateur Boxing Association of England have reached an agreement whereby in the two years between the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics there will be a moratorium on selected amateurs turning pro.
Says the ABA's chief executive, Paul King: "This will give our most talented boxers the chance to realise their full potential. In turn it will lift the profile of the sport for the benefit of the boxers concerned as well as the amateur and pro games. We are not opposed to kids turning pro, as Audley and Amir have done after their Olympic successes but this deal will be of mutual benefit, allowing us to help them achieve something at international level and delivering more mature boxers should they wish to go professional.
"We know that the better kids are going to turn professional in the long term but we need to be able to nurture their talent and to deliver medals." For their part the Board are happy with the new arrangement. Says the secretary, Simon Block: "We recognise that the amateurs feel disgruntled when they work with a young kid from the age of 11 and then when he is on the threshhold of achieving something for himself or his country he turns professional."
Under the pro-am arrangement any boxer likely to be selected for Beijing after the Commonwealth Games will have to undertake to remain an amateur until 2008. Anyone who breaches this contract could be denied a professional licence by the Board. Leading promoters and managers will be required to go along with this. "I think is is an excellent idea and I have no problems with it ," says Warren, who signed Amir a year after Athens.
The move has come about following pressure from the ABA who saw nine of the 12-strong team from the last Commonwealth Games turn pro after the Manchester event three years ago. Two more had defected even before the Games began.
Of the 11 picked for Melbourne, there are a number who in different circumstances would attract professional attention. These include the 19-year-old James "Chunky" DeGale, a "tasty" middleweight double ABA champion from west London. A six-footer with a flamboyant style and marketable good looks he is a gold medal prospect, as is Liverpool's Neil Perkins, a 26-year-old welterweight who became only the third Briton to win a medal - a bronze - in the world championships in China.
Meantime amateur boxing is currently enthusing about a youngster who could emerge as the new Amir - in 2012. He is 14-year-old Anthony Fowler, of Liverpool, cousin of footballer Robbie and described by King as: "As good as any kid of that age we have ever had, including Amir."
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