Steve Bunce on boxing: This weekend the Haringey Box Cup shows the amateur game at its best

COMMENT: The boxing at the Olympics is a sterile event compared to the Box Cup’s last day

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The Independent Online

This weekend the Haringey Box Cup will become the biggest boxing event to ever take place in Britain when as many as 550 boxers will fight over three days in four rings inside the echoing walls of the giant hall at Alexandra Palace in north London.

The boxers, all 16 and above, start to arrive late this week from all over Britain and from as far away as Nepal for a tournament that launched eight years ago and has so far been won by three Olympic gold medal-winners.

Katie Taylor was the reigning world amateur champion when she won, and Anthony Joshua was a novice when he biffed his way to his first title in ring three late one Sunday; Nicola Adams was a member of the Haringey Police and Community Club when she won gold at the Box Cup.

However, it is the novices, the raw and exhausted boxers, some having their third fight in three days, that make the finals on Sunday such a unique and draining experience. Three years ago the award-winning commentator John Rawling, working ringside for BoxNation, quit after six hours and 18 minutes of bouts without a single break, cup of tea or banana for energy; Rawling, I believe, had set a non-stop record for the sport and stood up from his microphone like a punch-drunk fighter.

The boxing at the Olympics is a sterile event compared to the last day at the Box Cup when a scrawny 17-year-old girl from Cork could find herself in deep trouble in round two against a local fighter from the Islington Boxing Club, which possibly has more members than any other amateur boxing club in the world.

By the way, the word “amateur” has been scrubbed from the sheets, replaced by nothing that makes any sense by the sport’s ruling body, and anybody who has ever watched two novices swinging punches at the end of a tournament, when not receiving a single penny for their efforts, will know that amateur is the only word that applies. A “meal ticket”, simply a slip of paper given to each boxer after each bout, which is then redeemable – with a scowl – for a slice of dead pizza or a squashed sausage roll does not qualify as payment. I would argue that it does not qualify as food.

This is amateur boxing, make no mistake and accept no lame explanations from the men in high-powered jobs who run the sport, handle the vast funding and oversee the impressive pool of elite boxers in Sheffield; the boxers they have now, the men and women they fund who hold their Olympic dreams, started here, but none of the executives will be anywhere near the four rings, the blood, sweat and glory.

The Box Cup served a dual purpose yesterday, the day before the first action, when 1,000 schoolchildren had a funded activity day; members of the Spurs team put on a skills session, the fire brigade parked a functioning truck to be climbed all over and the army, air force, police and navy put on displays. It is the largest event of its kind and thankfully this year William Hill stumped up a few quid.

The organisers of the Box Cup and the activity day, two local policeman called Ken Marsh and Gerry Willmot, both MBE, somehow find the £6,000 or £7,000 to feed the schoolkids. I first talked about this event half a dozen years ago on an old BBC London radio show that I hosted and it still amazes me that they have to struggle each year to find the funding.

It must be the ultimate outreach programme, with dozens of boxers over the years entering the ring with tags on their ankles or aggro with the police pending. Joshua, remember, had been in prison and was on a tag for a year before he found boxing and won the Box Cup. He is often a secret spectator at the event.

So today the boxing will start in the four rings with only a slight stagger between bells, which allows Danny O’Sullivan, the ring announcer from the London Olympics, to skip from ring to ring. Another police constable who is known as the Dagenham Buffer, he will announce every fight and result until the end late on Sunday.

At the O2 Arena last month when Joshua’s professional progress continued during a night of extremes, I grabbed a few minutes with the Hollywood Buffer, Michael, and told him about O’Sullivan’s exploits. “That sounds wild, he must be quite a guy,” Buffer told me. He is – and he’s not alone at an event that defies category.

The Haringey Box Cup  will be shown on London Live from  1-8pm on Sunday (Freeview channel 8, Sky 117, Virgin 159)