Boxing: Coach Edwards' nose is put out of joint by underhand tactics

Infighting takes gloss off medals and damages 2012 hopes
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The Independent Online

The future of Britain's Olympic boxing coach, Terry Edwards, and that of members of the most successful squad for over half a century is now likely to be in the hands of the former Sport England chief Derek Mapp. The 58-year-old self-made multimillionaire has been appointed to head the newly constituted British Amateur Boxing Association, which will be an umbrella body for the home-country organisations including the ABA of England, and will have control of the elite boxing programme leading up to 2012.

The BABA await formal ratification from the Government-backed funding body UK Sport, but it seems Mapp is now the man who must repair the damage inflicted by the infighting between the boxers and the blazers in Beijing.

The boxing ring is where noses are frequently put out of joint but it was the low blows outside it which, as Edwards now reveals, came perilously close to ruining Britain's medal chances.

"What went on out there did affect me and I believe it did the performances of some of the boxers, particularly Tony Jeffries and David Price in their semi-finals," he said. "The morale was very low because of the smear campaign that came from within the ABA.

"Stories that were old, and had been dealt with, or were inaccurate, were deliberately leaked by a high-ranking source in the ABA. It could have made the difference in the colour of medals that were won."

The future of Edwards, 65, whose reign as head coach has produced two Olympic golds, one silver and two bronzes, and Britain's first world amateur champion, remains in doubt, although he is contracted until March 2009. Last week he had what he describes as a "positive" meeting with UK Sport's director of performance, Liz Nicholl. But another meeting on 1 October, when Mapp will present his plans for the new body, will prove crucial.

Mapp has no background in boxing but became fascinated by the sport as the chairman of Sport England, a role he quit angrily after a policy row with the then culture secretary, James Purnell, nine months ago.

"There obviously has been some unnecessary confrontation but I shall not be taking sides," said Mapp. "We will be appointing a performance director who will set up the coaching strategy. It is a question of building for the future, and our aim must be to do even better in 2012 than the three medals won in Beijing.

"I shall be working closely with UK Sport and the three home nations to help achieve this. What we must do now is bring a bit of rationality to the situation. Opinions have run deep and they have become very personal. We must ensure we keep the talent both inside the ring and outside the ring and develop it."

A UK Sport spokesman said: "We are continuing to discuss the future administration of boxing's World Class Performance Programme with all the interested parties. We are keen to find an effective solution as quickly as possible to ensure that no time is lost in planning for a successful performance in London 2012, building on the medals delivered by Terry Edwards' squad in Beijing."

The central issue remains the suspension of welterweight Billy Joe Saunders for alleged "lewd" behaviour on a video two months before the Games. Many believe that was an attempt to discredit Edwards on disciplinary issues. Those who have seen the video say it was simply schoolboy humour. Edwards said: "When I read about what has been going on with the England rugby team, sex parties and all that, it's a joke. I am convinced it was timed to undermine me and the boxers because certain people in the ABA want some sort of regime change.

"I will have to take stock of where we stand when this new situation happens, but I hope my position will be clearer after 1 October."

Saunders remains in limbo. "All I've been told is that he is suspended and cannot even train with us until an inquiry has been held," Edwards said. "I fear we may lose him because of this at a time when we should be doing everything in our power to retain young boxers for the next Olympics. This could be the final nail in the coffin which makes him turn pro."

Although Frankie Gavin, whose failure to make the weight also brought fierce criticism of Edwards from the ABA's chief executive, Paul King, says he plans to remain amateur "for the time being", we understand that he and other boxers, including gold medallist James DeGale, are waiting to see if the coach is still around to fight their corner before deciding whether to hang up their headguards.