ROBERT SMITH of the British Boxing Board of Control insists it’s all systems go ahead of the sport’s return to the UK on February 13. When the country was put into another government-enforced lockdown after Christmas, the decision was made to postpone two professional shows in January – despite other leading sports continuing.
“Sport did not and has not stopped,” Smith told Boxing News. “We were the only sport to stop and we did so of our own accord. It was not a decision that was taken lightly but one we felt we had to make at that time.
“It was difficult. We all worked so hard to get boxing up and running again last year. Then we had the [Matchroom-promoted Anthony Joshua-Kubrat Pulev] show in December with 1,000 fans which was great. Everyone thought we were on the right road. Then, bang, boxing stopped.
“We’ve had to go back and look at things,” Smith admitted. “We’ve made some changes to the operational document that are again in line with government guidelines in regard to who can attend shows – those who are in high risk groups cannot, for example – and we’re happy to do that.
“Perhaps we all got a little too complacent but now we’re looking forward and we’re excited to be moving forward again. When you consider the progress we made last year and everything we already have in place, the sport of boxing is in a very good position.”
Smith was keen to clarify a point made by Frank Warren in last week’s Boxing News (January 28). The promoter, when asked about the strain boxing could put on the NHS, said: “The people that work on boxing shows are paid for, they’re not supplied by the NHS. As promoters, we pay for them, we pay for the ambulances and the paramedics, in the same way that other sports pay for their medical care.”
In response, Smith said: “That’s correct, the promoters do pay for the doctors. But they’re all NHS doctors who are registered with the Board. We can’t just ring up a doctor’s surgery and ask for a doctor, they have to be registered with us. Therefore we have a limited pool of doctors, who are all NHS doctors, and our first priority is always the NHS.
“So, yes, the promoters pay for the doctors but the Board appoints them.”
Smith believes the Board made the right decision to take a step back in January.
“We have had extra time,” Smith continued. “That will prove to be a positive move as we build again. We are looking forward to starting again on the 13th [with the Matchroom show at Wembley Arena headlined by Josh Warrington] and everyone has been working hard, every day, to ensure that goes smoothly.
“As things stand, our doctors are happy for us to commence [on February 13].”
The question of when crowds will be able to return will remain unanswered for the foreseeable future, however.
“I might sound like a broken record but I can’t emphasise enough the good work done by promoters and their teams last year,” Smith said.
“I saw someone say last year, ‘but it’s not the same without crowds, boxing needs crowds’. Well of course it does, it’s a spectator sport. Just like nearly every sport. It’s not like we don’t want crowds there or promoters don’t want crowds there.
“The bottom line is there is nothing the promoters or I can do about that at the moment. We have to prove that boxing can work within the current guidelines and, generally, everyone is doing that.”
Smith also wanted to point out that communication with the government regarding the issue of funding is ongoing. Last year, there was outcry in the fraternity that boxing was not mentioned within the government’s plans to provide aid to certain spectator sports.
“We’ve had a lot of correspondence with the government about this and letters have been sent to them, signed by the likes of Frank Warren, and things are looking good. Anthony Joshua’s initiative is moving forward too.
“We’re dealing with all of the UK amateur federations and money is being given to amateur clubs. We are working hard in an effort to ensure the clubs get the support they need.”