Head coach blasts boxing suspension

Great Britain's boxing head coach Terry Edwards has pronounced himself "extremely disillusioned" over the circumstances and timing of a suspension handed to welterweight Billy Joe Saunders by the Amateur Boxing Association.

The suspension comes less than 48 hours before James Degale, Tony Jeffries and David Price contest semi-final bouts in Beijing having already confirmed their team's medal haul will be the greatest since the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Edwards said he only learned via the media that Saunders, who was beaten in the second round in Beijing last week, had returned home to find he had been suspended pending an investigation into alleged lewd behaviour during a pre-Games training camp in France.

Edwards said: "My focus over the next 48 hours is to prepare my three boxers for their semi-final bouts tomorrow. The allegations made in the media about the conduct of athletes on the British Boxing programme are, on the whole, unfounded.

"I feel extremely disillusioned that I have learnt of the suspension of one of my boxers from the media.

"Above all though, I am so sad that this, together with the other allegations made, have been raised to distract and unsettle me, the coaching team, and more importantly my boxers ahead of the most important bouts of their lives."

Edwards' supporters have long accused the ABA of wanting the 65-year-old out, and privately mounting a campaign to discredit the head coach, which they stepped up in the wake of gold medal favourite Frankie Gavin's failure to make the Olympic weight.

Civil war has been brewing in the amateur ranks since UK Sport effectively positioned themselves as an umbrella organisation to provide extra assistance to the British-level fighters within the three individual home nation boxing associations.

In May, Matt Archibald, the UK Sport-funded elite squad manager widely considered Edwards' right-hand man, was suspended by the ABA for what they described as a "minor misdemeanour", believed to relate to the method of payment of a hotel bill.

Archibald travelled to Beijing as an accredited official of UK Sport and watched the British boxers from the stands alongside their friends and club trainers, but he has since returned home to the UK.

Then shortly before the team flew out for their pre-Games training camp in Macau, elements within the governing body reportedly threatened to withdraw the boxers' licences and pull them out of Beijing in another row over funding.

Today, Team GB's Chef de Mission Simon Clegg found himself in the unusual position of having to accuse one of his sport's governing bodies of effectively attempting to undermine themselves.

Clegg said: "The Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) choosing to yesterday (Wednesday) issue Billy Joe Saunders with a suspension relating to an incident which happened months before the Beijing Olympic Games is extremely disappointing.

"Releasing such allegations to the media at this time could prove detrimental to the critical preparations of the other three boxers who will be contesting to reach the final of the boxing competition tomorrow.

"We are frustrated that our athletes and the boxing coaching team will have to deal with this added pressure and distraction at this point in the Games. Nobody involved with boxing should be distracting the team at this time."

Under the increased funding programme, Britain's elite fighters have been able to train full-time at the Institute of Sport in Sheffield and qualified eight fighters for Beijing, as opposed to just one in Athens and two in Sydney in 2000.

Edwards added that a number of other reports of indiscipline involving the squad were incorrect or exaggerated, but stressed he would not address them specifically until all his fighters had completed their Olympic competition this week.

The 18-year-old Saunders, who discovered his suspension from a letter when he arrived back in Britain earlier this week, was allegedly seen on a video, briefly posted on the Youtube website, making lewd remarks to a French cleaner in a hotel corridor.

Edwards said: "Over the past four years I have put together a Boxing Programme which has produced the best ever Commonwealth Games results, three World Championship medallists, the most qualifiers for the Olympic Games since 1992, and the most Olympic medal winners since 1972.

"But more importantly I have tried to instil in my team a respect for themselves and others, and a sense of pride in competing for their country. I will thoroughly address all allegations made when I get back to the UK.

"Right now, I have three boxers who are fighting to win gold medals for Team GB, and I will not allow anything to distract my lads from what they need to do in the ring." Officials at UK Sport have been keen to stress that the ultimate responsibility for the British squad has always rested with the ABA, although funding issues must fall within UK Sport's own terms and conditions.

A spokesman added: "At this critical time for us our focus is on the performances in Beijing and the three boxers who have already won medals for their country, exceeding everyone's expectations and the sport's own medal target.

"It would be disappointing if this issue became a distraction, and we hope Terry Edwards will be given the freedom to support David Price, Tony Jeffries and James Degale in their gold medal campaign."