Organisers of next year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, already alarmed at the possibility of losing stellar athletic attractions Mo Farah and Usain Bolt, admit “serious concern” that they may be robbed of another Olympic gold medallist.
Nicola Adams, along with England’s other top boxers, male and female, faces being banned from the event and all other major international tournaments, including the World Championships and Rio Olympics. Such catastrophe is imminent if the in-house aggravation between the sport’s blazers – first revealed in this column – is not finally sorted today. The future of amateur boxing in England hangs on the outcome of an extraordinary general meeting in Sheffield of the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE) which is the culmination of the continuing punch-up between a reform group and the sport’s old guard. Unless their spat is resolved, which seems unlikely, it will bring about the immediate suspension of English boxers by the global governing body, AIBA, and the loss of £5 million of Sport England funding.
The mess stems from the establishment of a new board of directors summarily assembled by the former sports minister Richard Caborn, who was subsequently deposed as ABAE chairman at last month’s annual meeting. Several members of the discarded old board felt sufficiently aggrieved to form a protest group, backed by most of the 12 affiliated associations. They are demanding a fresh recruitment process. But AIBA, backed by Sport England, are insisting on the endorsement of the new board, while ABAE have been instructed they must accept a “package of compliance” which includes the scrapping of headguards and other moves towards professionalism. The word “amateur” ultimately will cease to exist as far as boxing is concerned. A rejection of the new “modernising” board and/or AIBA’s other proposals will see English boxers expelled from future tournaments worldwide. Representatives of both AIBA and Sport England will attend today’s meeting, described by ABAE as “a critical moment for boxing in England which could result in the destruction of the sport at grassroots level”.
It has become a club v country issue, with the rebels, led by the powerful London ABA and derided as “dinosaurs” by Caborn, insisting that while they would reluctantly accept the new regulations, they will vote against the necessary ratification of the new board, believing it will strip the regional associations of any power. They also maintain that any international ban could be legally overturned, and that only £250,000 a year of Sport England cash filters down to the 900 clubs. All combatants admit the outcome is “on a knife edge”. Another of boxing’s infamous split decisions looms. Seconds out! But let’s hope the boxers aren’t.
Nothing provokes healthier debate around this time than the annual argument over the Sports Personality of the Year. My view that Mo Farah doesn’t deserve the accolade over his reluctance to appear in the Commonwealth Games – apparently he prefers a nice little earner in the London Marathon – brought a sharp rebuke from the athletics world. My preference for Andy Murray now incurs the displeasure of yachties and punters. True, Sir Ben Ainslie engineered a comeback of Lazarus proportions in the America’s Cup, while Tony McCoy’s 4,000th National Hunt victory was a phenomenal achievement. But, for me, Murray not only won Wimbledon but finally discovered something the award should be about: personality.
Not the retiring sort
Boxing and conspiracy theories go hand in glove, but I believe David Haye’s latest injury is genuine while doubting we have seen the last of him. Like most fighters, he is in no sense the retiring sort. The erudite former world light-heavy champion Nathan Cleverly admits he seriously considered quitting last summer after being brutally rolled over, but he is back topping the BoxNation-televised Copperbox bill next Saturday, moving up to meet Australia’s Daniel Ammann for the Commonwealth cruiser crown, declaring: “I can’t end my career as a loser”. They never can.