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The huge steps British boxing must continue to take to avoid crisis point

British boxing
The General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, Robert Smith speaks to Matt Christie and Alex Steedman

What’s your feelings on the current climate and the state of British boxing right now?

As a sport, I think we’ve done very well. You might say I’m bound to say that, but I know the amount of work that has gone in with the meetings and consultations with the doctors etc. It hasn’t been easy, it’s been very challenging but we’re up and running and the shows have been good on the whole. It bodes well as we move forward. The government have now put out new guidelines in regards to the amount of people who can gather, so we’ll have to see how that affects the whole of sport in general. But boxing has dealt with everything very, very well.

Are behind closed doors events the new future given the current headlines?

I think it possibly is, yes. I was hopeful we’d have some sort of crowds by the end of October or November but now it’s possible there won’t be any crowds until the end of the year. I have further meetings in the next week where all of this will be discussed but I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to get people into venues.

Give us an idea of the work that went in behind the scenes to get us into a position where shows could be put on the first place.

The big question at the beginning was: Are we ever going to get boxing up and running again under these circumstances? Of all the sports there is, there is an argument to say that boxing should not be up and running because of the nature of the sport. Outside of the sport, a lot of people came up to me and said that. I think the procedures we put in, in regards to the testing and the isolation, and the hard work of the promoters – everyone, on the whole, has worked really well together – I’m pleased with the way we have dealt with the problems. We’re a major sport and we’ve all realised that sport, sport as a whole, is good for the nation and boxing is good for our supporters. We have to keep it going. We’ve got to make it worthwhile in regard to the contests taking place, we’ve got to make sure that people want to watch it.

Matchroom

There are different factions in boxing but has there been a coming together of minds to get this going for the good of the sport?

In the beginning I wrote to all promoters who had indicated they wanted to promote. Now some of our promoters haven’t been able to promote, and I fully respect that, and I had several conversations advising certain promoters that they shouldn’t promote. Some have said I haven’t been very supportive in that regard but I want people to be able to promote in the future and not lose all their money now because it’s a very expensive process at the moment. But I did speak to all promoters, said we shouldn’t have many clashes in dates and I think we only had one clash in the first 16 dates; in boxing, that’s quite remarkable. Promoters have taken on board the need not to compete against each other, which is very important.

What do you say to the small hall promoters who cannot stage events and to fans who are looking at that side of the sport with understandable concern?

There is a concern. We’re a sport but we’re also a business. The promoters have to decide whether they can afford to run a show or not. It’s not for me to tell them how to run their business, it’s my job to regulate the sport. But I do think in certain circumstances it would be financial suicide for some promoters to promote at the moment. They’ve got to understand that. The one criticism we’ve had is that we’re looking after the ‘big boys’. I don’t think that’s the case but they are the people who can afford to stage shows because they have a TV deal. Without a TV deal, it’s very difficult. As I said at the very beginning, if you run your business correctly, then you’ll survive, if you don’t you won’t. That’s not just boxing, that’s every business.

With that in mind, what are the financial implications for the British Boxing Board of Control if this situation continues into the new year?

Well, huge. We take our funds from tournament tax and licence fees etc so we need boxing to be running. At the present time, we’ve got money coming in from the shows but they’re greatly reduced. I’m mindful that if we’re in this position in March, April, May then I think the whole sport has an issue. I don’t think we will be, I’m positive we can get over this, because I think it’s something the world has to cope with. We’ve got to find ways of living with it and I’m sure we will. Within boxing, we have some very clever people who can do that. But yes, as an organisation, our finances are being hit big time just like the promoters – if they’re not making any money, we’re not making any money. That’s how it is at the present time.

It’s often presumed that the Board is a huge empire with hundreds of people at your disposal in the office. Tell us the reality.

At the moment we have a number of people on furlough. We have people working at home. The reality is the office employs 10 people and one part-time accountant so it’s not a big organisation when you compare it something like the Football Association, rugby and cricket. We’re relatively small and we rely on volunteers all the time. We’ve just moved offices to a larger premises which is really bad timing, as you can imagine, and we have most people working at home because the office isn’t what you would classify as Covid-friendly. We have Board meetings with only five people present in the room because that’s all we can do. It’s affecting us.

Are plans already in place to get fans into the venues should the green light be given?

Yes, discussions have taken place. I have written to the government in that regard and so have the promoters. That has to be the next step. We’re very keen for that happen. We got boxing going and some people said we couldn’t do that but we did, with everybody’s help. Now we have to get people into the venue and some will say we can’t, but we will. I don’t know when we will, but we will. You have to be positive on these things. There’s no point moping around – if you weren’t positive in boxing you might as well go home and lie in bed and ask for a cup of tea every now and again. I am positive. We will get it done. I have faith in the promoters – we have some of the best promoters in the world here. Once we get up and running, the other promoters can do so as well. I don’t want to put a dampener on it, there are some promoters who will not promote again, that’s business.

There was some criticism surrounding Italian referee Giuseppe Quartarone’s handling of the recent Samir Ziani-Alex Dilamaghani bout. When a European official is appointed for a EBU title fight in the UK what’s the process?

We look at the official’s record. We know Mr Quartarone, he’s been here before and never caused a huge amount of concern. It was a very tough fight, a very good fight. I think referees get blamed a great deal for stopping fights too early or too late. It’s easy to do that. Boxers do have corners. They can be pulled out by the corner too – it’s easy to blame everybody bar the people around them. We look at their performance, what they’ve done and if we’re not happy then they won’t come back again. There have been individuals who we have said we don’t want back and we’ve communicated that to the sanctioning bodies. The same with judges, we have the ultimate power in regard to that.

Alex Dilmaghani

Did you see anything in that last round that concerned you to the extent that Quartarone won’t be able to officiate in this country again?

I will look at it again. It was a cracking contest and you have to give the fighters the opportunity to get through it. I don’t think it was that bad from first viewing, it was satisfactory. My colleague Dennis Gilmartin was there, he didn’t think too much of it, it was a tough, tough European title fight. But we will look at it again. We always do.

You will not allow officials to speak to the media and justify their decisions directly after a contest. Why is that?

Their performance might be poor and we may have a complaint from one of the parties. We may have to have a hearing. Before that hearing, we don’t want it all bandied around. We want to hear it from the horse’s mouth in the formal hearing process. It is done properly and everyone is given the opportunity to give their side of the story. Also, I don’t think they need to justify themselves to anyone other than us, the Board. We’re the people who licence them and if we’re unhappy we will deal with it. We have downgraded referees, we have stopped people from being upgraded. Even though we don’t stand on a mountain and sing about it, we do these things. I’m not a big believer in telling everyone our business and how we run things. We run things as best we can. There will always be criticism. I understand that and I have no problem with that. I can live with it.

As a counter argument to that, we do live in an age now where being seen to do the right thing is almost more important than actually doing it. It’s important that you are seen to explain yourselves as an organisation.

As an organisation, yes. I’m happy to be the voice of the Board and explain things. But for the life of me I can’t see why a referee has to justify their position just to get slaughtered on social media. I think what people put on social media is sometimes disgusting. I don’t need that. Our officials don’t need that. So I don’t think we need to justify to people who’ve just come back from the pub on a Saturday night who are on social media complaining about a result. I don’t mind talking to people who understand boxing but I have no time for people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Also, if a referee didn’t want to talk to the media then immediately they’re guilty. Not everyone wants to talk, referees are individuals and they’re all different. If we have one rule for all of them it’s nice and simple.

To listen to the full interview with Robert Smith download the latest Boxing News podcast, The Opening Bell. Also discussed was Canelo vs DAZN and reflections from David Haye on the fight that changed his life. Available on all podcast platforms (like Apple, Spotify, Amazon etc) or listen directly from our website. A new episode is available every Thursday morning and it’s completely free to listen to.

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