Boxing: Amateur game badly bruised by fiasco of Edwards' sacking

Another medallist to go pro as sweet science turns sour despite Beijing success
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The Independent Online

Things have moved swiftly since we revealed last week that, days after being awarded an MBE, the Great Britain Olympic boxing coach, Terry Edwards, had been handed his P45. On Monday, Edwards' No 2, Dave Pocknall, quit saying he could not work under the new programme being put in place for the elite squad in Sheffield, while Richie Woodhall, the former world champion wanted by the British Amateur Boxing Asso-ciation as new head coach, declared himself a non-runner, saying the treatment of Edwards was "shocking".

A further blow to the future of one of Britain's most successful Olympic sports is that the super-heavyweight David Price, 25, is the latest member of the Beijing squad set to turn professional, joining fellow bronze medallist Tony Jeffries with the promoter Dennis Hobson. Featherweight Joe Murray and light-welter Bradley Saunders are also considering offers. With gold medallist James DeGale, world champion Frankie Gavin and Billy Joe Saunders making paid debuts for Frank Warren next month, the 19-year-old flyweight Khalid Yafai is the only member of the "Magnificent Eight" of 2008 likely to go on to 2012.

The treatment of Edwards may be decisive in Price, his team captain in Beijing, opting to shed his vest. The 65-year-old was sacked by Derek Mapp, chairman of the BABA, the new umbrella body, who has recalled Kevin Hickey, 67, a former Olympic coach but out of boxing for two decades, as performance director. The decision has been widely condemned. Hickey started his role on 1 January and met Edwards, who worked under him over 20 years ago, on 5 January. Three days later, Edwards was gone. Kelvyn Travis, a friend of Hickey who trains Audley Harrison, was placed in temporary charge of the elite squad.

Last night, Richard Caborn, the former sports minister who is president of the ABA, the English part of the BABA, spoke for the first time about the developments, saying Edwards' departure was inevitable because "he had taken us as far as he could". He said: "Look, Terry is a star, a bloody good coach, and we are immensely grateful to him. But it's time to move on. Amateur boxing is being restructured and it needs a fresh approach. He is 65 and we do not feel he has the technicalskills to meet these new demands. We have to become more professional".

You cannot get more professional than, over eight years, masterminding a record number of Olympic, world and European medals. The reason for his dismissal goes far deeper. The former London cabbie has never taken kindly to interference from the blazers,and the ABA, an organisation riven by petty jealousies and financial disorder, have them in abundance. Some of the infighting would have done credit to the Thrilla in Manila.

The relationship between Edwards and the chief executive, Paul King, has not been harmonious, and some club coaches were unhappy at the priority given to the development of the elite squad. But if performances in the ring were unparalleled, behind the scenes things were chaotic, with rows and a string of unpaid bills. Edwards once had to put the boxers' accommodation expenses on his credit card.

Beijing brought matters to a head. He was criticised when Gavin, the best gold-medal hope, failed to make the weight and flew home. Then the day before DeGale, Price and Jeffries boxed in the semi-finals, details of a sensational suspension for Billy Joe Saunders for what the ABA admitted later was "a minor offence" were leaked to a national newspaper, along with a dossier of alleged misdemeanours by British boxers. It was a thinly veiled attempt to undermine Edwards.

Understandably, the boxers felt they were battling not only their opponents but their own governing body. "They tried to sabotage us," said DeGale, and Woodhall has hinted at why he wants no part of the amateur scene: "There were people out there who wanted to scupper and destroy the squad."

Following an ABA board meeting on Thursday the position of King has been "redefined", according to Caborn. He will concentrate more on administration than performance.

Edwards is not alone in predicting that Britain, which he once said "could be the new Cuba", will now struggle in 2012. It is clear Mapp and Caborn have to sort out an unholy mess. Whatever boxing's equivalent of an own goal is – punching themselves on the nose, perhaps – the blazers have delivered it. But Edwards might argue it was more a blow below the belt.

Punching their weight

Terry Edwards: Head coach since 2000. Led Britain to unprecedented number of international medals. Regarded as father figure by squads.

Paul King: Chief executive of English ABA. Has overseen huge rise in popularity in schools and clubs. Member of world governing body IABA.

Derek Mapp: Millionaire businessman, now overlord as chair of BABA. Resigned as chair of Sport England after row over Olympic legacy.

Richard Caborn: President of ABA and former sports minister who accused Olympic boxers of "biting the hand that feeds them".

Keith Walters: Retired school janitor who chairs English ABA and has been an Edwards supporter.

Kevin Hickey: Ex-GB Olympic coach brought back after 20 years by Mapp as BABA performance director.

Kelvyn Travis: Once fired by ABA for hitting fellow coach; Hickey put him in temporary charge of elite squad.

Alan Hubbard