Kevin Garside: How the BBC can help boxing fulfil its Olympic legacy

The Way I See It: The old route for successful amateurs has been closed to today’s aspiring pros

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The loudest noise at the Olympics was recorded at the ExCel Arena, where the audience for Ireland's punching princess, Katie Taylor, went through the 113 decibel level. It was no library any night. Will the prospect of more capital nights like that be the siren call that brings London's golden heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, back to the ring in British colours and the BBC back to boxing?

Golden Boy Promotions are out there with their heavily baited rod hoping to reel in London 2012's biggest fish. So, too, are the British Lionhearts, the Anglo-Irish franchise competing for the first time in the World Series of Boxing, the big idea aimed at transforming the amateur code.

The word 'amateur' has been erased from boxing letterheads, the iron curtain separating amateur and paid codes bulldozed. The governing body responsible for what was amateur boxing, the AIBA, has designs on changing the game from top to bottom, ushering in professional status while allowing the boxers to compete at the Olympics and the major multi-national events. The goal is to showcase elite amateurs at venues from Moscow to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Conceived in the kitchen of Barry McGuigan's home in Kent three years ago, the WSB concept has developed into a Champions League of boxing, a dozen franchises competing under quasi-national banners in two groups of six. Though McGuigan has no connection with his own brainchild, his son Jake has a role in the organising of the Lionhearts' home matches. On Friday he invites you to Earls Court, where Germany are the visitors. Leading the British challenge are Olympic silver medallist Fred Evans, Olympian and world silver medallist Andrew Selby, and Ireland's Joe Ward, a former world junior champion smashing his way through the light-heavyweight division.

The old route for successful amateurs at the end of an Olympic cycle was to rush into the arms of the promoter waving the biggest cheque. Audley Harrison traded the golden bauble he won in Sydney to the BBC for a million smackers. Thank you, Auntie. Amir Khan took a massive lump from Frank Warren, sufficient to parade around Bolton in a brand new Range Rover with L-plates on before he threw a punch as a pro. But that tap has been well and truly turned off for today's aspiring pros.

Only London's golden heavyweight Joshua has the potential to turn Olympic treasure into commercial bounty, and even he is split about his next move. Irish Olympian John Joe Nevin has already reversed his decision to turn full-time pro and is part of the Lionhearts' WSB squad.

The whole shebang is underwritten by the AIBA, which allows franchises to pay its top boxers match fees estimated at £1,200 and basic monthly retainers of £2,000. The über elite are thought to earn even more. This is on top of annual grant funding of up to £40k. Joshua is being heavily canvassed by the British team and his appearance in the box seats on Friday will fuel speculation he is about to join.

Joshua is a late convert to boxing, not throwing a punch until after the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He was fortunate to nick a decision against Cuba's Erislandy Savon in his opening Olympic bout and doubly so to get the nod against Italy's defending Olympic champion Roberto Cammarelle in the final. There is a persuasive body of opinion pointing him towards the professional compromise offered by the WSB, which would allow him to develop his talent against world-class amateurs and, should the BBC jump, establish an identity on free-to-air television.

Cammarelle was working the microphones for the British trip to Italy last month and vowed to return to the ring with the Italian WSB team were Joshua to commit to the series. Now that would be golden TV. The series is shown on ESPN, but discussions with the national broadcaster are taking place and everything is crossed to have a deal in place before the quarter-finals in March.

After trips to California, Italy and Kazakhstan, the Lionhearts debut on home soil in West London on Friday. Where else can you watch world-class sport in a major metropolis for as little as a tenner a head? The plan is to make a permanent home of the Copper Box at the Olympic site. With that and 80 per cent of the Lionhearts' squad made up of members of Team GB boxers, legacy claims are being met with the WSB initiative.

There is also a commitment to stage exhibition bouts featuring the women who made history in London. That means a return to the ring for the likes of Nicola Adams and Taylor.

The Olympics made household names of Joshua, Adams and Taylor in a fortnight. WSB offers the BBC an opportunity to deepen our relationship with them, to make heroes of young boxers by beaming them into our homes in a way we have not seen since Benn and Eubank filled our screens. That's what I call public service television.