Boxing: Storey gives peace fighting chance

Belfast celebrates the man who uses boxing to bridge religious divide

These are troubled times for boxing. Naseem Hamed, one of the nation's greatest-ever fighters, is banged up in a Yorkshire jail, presumably resting his head for the next 15 months on the softer bed he demanded. Scott Harrison, his successor as a British world featherweight champion, has followed Frank Bruno on to the psychiatrist's couch in a Priory clinic and himself awaits a court case in September which could also see him sent to prison.

Harrison should have been defending his title in Belfast last night. Had he been there he might well have learned how boxing can give a lesson in life.

Belfast has had its share of troubles of course. The Troubles, they still call them here. Throughout the strife-filled years divided by religion and politics the Holy Family gymnasium in North Belfast has stood as a lone haven from the bombs and the bullets.

On Friday the achievements of the man who has spent a lifetime doing what the politicians couldn't, uniting kids on different sides of Ulster's pernicious religious divide, ironically through fighting, was celebrated by a unique event.

Youngsters from the back- streets of Belfast, members of the club run by Gerry Storey, joined up with a Brazilian team recruited from the shanty towns of Rio, to take on an England squad under the banner "Fight for Peace". Supported by the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, the scene was a venue no bigger than a church hall, in front of a banner which portrayed Ulster's most famous fighter, Barry McGuigan, who was there with three-times world champion Duke McKenzie, and young Amir Khan. The couple of hundred present at the North Queen Street Community Centre exuded as much fervour as the sell-out crowd 24 hours later at the King's Hall where Khan had his seventh pro engagement.

The gym above, which featured in the Daniel Day-Lewis film The Boxer, is in a Catholic area but has been spared sectarian violence. It is here that Storey has coached young boxers regardless of their creed or background without the customary intimidation. Somehow they had an unofficial diplomatic immunity. "They'd never touch me or any member of my gym," he said. "The kids had no way of getting to know each other until we brought them to the gym. They trained together, then went off on their bikes as friends."

It was a pugilistic prelude to this weekend's Laureus Awards in Barcelona and it was at this event in Lisbon last year that the "Fight for Peace" night was conceived when Storey, the recipient of their Sport for Good award, met 33-year-old Luke Dowdney, the former British amateur boxer who five years ago set up the boxing academy just outside Rio to help save kids from the favelas, or shanty towns, from a life of crime, violence and poverty through teaching them, as Storey has, to use their fists in the ring rather than firearms out of it.

The result seemed irrelevant, the combined "ghetto" team winning by five bouts to two. It was the spirit that mattered, even when 17-year-old Alexandra Francisa da Silva, one girl among the boys from Brazil, jumped for joy after being declared the winner over Ireland's Carley McNaul in a special women's bout only to learn the result had been wrongly announced. She happily punched the air again.

McGuigan has known the 70-year-old Storey for almost 30 years. "What Gerry has done in this troubled, treacherous place is remarkable, almost beyond belief," he said. "People forget how bad those times were, when you couldn't go down a certain part of the city if you had the wrong religion or the wrong name. This club was in a very rough Republican area. But you could walk into this place because Gerry Storey had created a little sanctuary where no one ever troubled the boxers coming in and out. Protestants and Catholics trained together and fought together. There was no religion, no swearing. Gerry insisted on zero tolerance for any abuse of the rules.

"He was a world-class coach who helped me from the age of 14 right through to the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. That work is continuing. It is the most successful boxing club in the country, producing champions time after time.

"What Gerry gives is an education in life. You leave this place having learned respect and tolerance. He has saved so many lives in this country. Kids came here who could have been potential terrorists but Gerry was able to channel their aggression in a very positive way. It is a scandal that he's never been honoured. He should have been knighted for what he's done."

All this was apposite in a week when a 15-year-old boy died in Belfast after being attacked by a sectarian gang. It indicated that the fight for peace in Belfast goes on, as it does in Rio.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam