BOXING, often immune to the chaos in the outside world, is in crisis. Though it is worthwhile to not get drawn too deeply into the panic currently gripping the entire planet, we must remain realistic and accept that our sport and its protagonists are entering months of grave uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Fights all over the world have been postponed. In the UK, hopes that this weekend’s shows would survive ended when the British Boxing Board of Control announced everything will be cancelled until April at the earliest. Contingency plans to stage shows behind closed doors have, for the time being, been scrapped.
TV bosses were planning for such scenarios. Concerns about commentators’ voices swaying the opinions of officials, simply because they’re the only voices that will be heard in empty venues, have already been raised. It would have been far from ideal yet at least it would have resulted in boxers getting paid.
Fighters now face long periods where they will not earn any money. After all, aside from the extreme minority who are supported by lucrative sponsorship deals, plenty of boxers must fight to raise cash. A solution to that seems impossible at the current time.
The biggest problem facing the sport is the lack of medical care. It has been announced by the British government that events where significant numbers of people gather will no longer be catered for. Which means that ambulances and doctors will not be provided. And those ambulances and doctors, that each week park outside venues and sit ringside and watch carefully to protect, are even more important than the crowds who fund the sport. Without them, contests cannot occur, behind closed doors or otherwise. Quite simply, the National Health Service has more important things to worry about than the sport of boxing.
While it is often tempting to label major promoters as villains, it must also be remembered that without them, the sport of boxing as we know it would not exist. The small hall promoters who every week stage shows knowing they will not make any money, and the bigger promoters who take financial risks by delivering major events in the hope they will be profitable, are all facing crippling losses due to the restrictions that will occur. There is no insurance available that will cover any shortfalls. The major broadcasting outlets that they work with are also stumbling into disarray. How can a subscription channel that charges customers to watch live sport continue to charge when there is no live sport to broadcast? It is a problem that TV bosses are acutely aware of.
The list goes on. Betting companies pump sponsorship money into the sport of boxing. Yet they too are governed, almost exclusively, by the existence of sporting events. At least for the short-term, balancing books will be an exceptionally difficult ask. Longer term, the money being fed to the sport by them and other brands could dip significantly.
At Boxing News, our thoughts are with those in the industry who are struggling and will struggle. We think of the aged former fighters consigned to care homes who rely on visitors for some semblance of happiness. We think of the EBAs up and down the country who every month host events to provide contentment to their members. We consider those selfless and nameless trainers who for so many years have provided a priceless service to the sport for little or no reward. We remember those elegantly grubby gyms who bless communities yet struggle to survive on meagre membership fees. One hopes that the roots of our sport will be protected as the country goes into almost inevitable lockdown.
This is not a plea for anyone’s sympathy to be directed anywhere. More of a reminder about the rich tapestry of boxing and all its moving parts and how the Coronavirus could leave its mark for many years to come. A notice to everyone involved that we must work together to ensure the sport rises again when the world frees itself from the prison doors its currently trapped behind.
It pays to be positive during these bleak days. Unlike many other sports, boxing is not governed by a strict fixture lists or scheduling commitments. Almost ironically, the haphazard nature of the sport – for so long a source of extreme frustration – will make recovery quicker and easier for boxing than for sports reliant on the infrastructure of long seasons and tournaments.
Fights that we were excited to see in the coming months will be rescheduled at their earliest convenience and fans starved of their beloved fist-fighting will watch with baited-breath. No, this is not the beginning of the end for the sport. Boxing is stronger than that.
So, what of us, Boxing News? We too will likely be hurt by the pandemic. Yet we have survived two world wars and countless crises during our 110-year history. We have adapted and grown and, in my personal promise to you, I will do everything in my power to ensure that BN lives on in the face of difficult times. As always, Boxing News will produce a weekly magazine for subscribers and those able to get to shops to buy it. Should that become impossible – and that’s a situation we don’t yet foresee – we will continue to publish our weekly digital issue while updating the website with compelling content every single day.
We are conscious that, for many of you, BN is an escape from the real world that has taken up so much space on these pages already. This week, we felt it our duty to provide updates on the virus and how it will affect the sport. So please accept my apologies for the sobering nature of certain sections of this week’s issue but please rest assured that BN – in the coming months – will deliver exactly what you need from us: The truth, good humour and the kind of storytelling that has made us the industry leader for decades.
As always, our commitment is to you, our loyal reader. Take care out there. Be kind to each other. Keep loved ones close. And only read what you trust.