Steve Bunce on Boxing: Cultures clash as full-time amateurs finally make their mark on Europe

Even John Conteh, Alan Minter and Charlie Magri took beatings

Steve Bunce
Tuesday 11 June 2013 22:38 BST
Andrew Selby (right) on his way to his second European gold, overcoming Ireland's Michael Conland in the final
Andrew Selby (right) on his way to his second European gold, overcoming Ireland's Michael Conland in the final

Every two years since 1925 the European amateur boxing championships take place and, against a backdrop of pain and embarrassment, boxers from Britain have mostly just made up the numbers.

In Rome in 1967, 27 British and Irish boxers took part and only one managed to win a medal during the peak of the quarter-century when the Eastern bloc nations, with their full-time amateurs, often had a total gold-medal shutout. There were several European championships in the Seventies and Eighties when it was even decided not to send British boxers because the routine massacre of our best young fighters was breaking their spirits.

Even future world champions such as John Conteh, Alan Minter and Charlie Magri went to Belgrade, Moscow and other eastern outposts and took their beatings. Between 1961 and 1979 seven of the 10 European championships took place behind the old Iron Curtain and its suspicious programmes of excellence. "I was sick and tired of East Germans and Russians," said Magri, who did manage a bronze in 1975 in Katowice.

Last Saturday in Minsk, Belarus, the 40th European championships ended and two Irish and one Welsh boxer won gold medals, two Irish boxers took silver and two English boxers collected bronze medals. The very fabric of amateur boxing's elite in Europe has changed forever during the last six years because of the increase in funding that Britain and Ireland's once-impoverished contenders now get. It was the fourth consecutive championship in which the Irish and British boxers managed to win gold, which is startling compared to the lack of success in the past 50 years. When Luke Campbell won gold in 2008 he was the first British winner since Frankie Taylor in 1961.

In Minsk, the Welshman Andrew Selby won his second European gold and has decided not to turn professional; he has picked a path to the Rio Olympics in 2016 that includes taking part in the revolutionary AIBA Professional Boxing, a tournament that begins in January 2014, where boxers will lose their vest, drop the headguards and fight over eight and 10 rounds instead of the Olympic standard of three. The boxers inside the APB system have been promised substantial money for their fights but they will still be eligible for the Olympics and all mainstream amateur events.

The move by AIBA, who have the exclusive right to provide boxers to the Olympic games, to form their APB regime has been greeted with outrage by some of the established sanctioning bodies in the professional business. The WBC in particular is looking at AIBA's protected and exclusive position in the Olympic movement now that the amateurs' ruling body has moved into the professional game. The WBC's chieftain Jose Sulaiman has written to the International Olympic Committee's president Jacques Rogge seeking clarification.

At Rio, Selby will have all the advantages that the Soviets and East Germans enjoyed for so long at the European championships. Selby will be a full-time fighter, not a full-time builder, butcher or bus driver on an impossible Eastern Bloc mission.

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