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The year ahead for amateur boxing

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John Dennen considers the uncertainties that lie ahead for amateur boxing in 2021

THE new year began as grimly as the last one ended. A new national lockdown has come in, necessitated by the rapid spread of coronavirus and the extreme pressure on the National Health Service. The epidemic is at its worst point in the UK. It means gyms have once again been forced to close.

Outdoor exercise is still permitted either with members of your own household or, at the time of writing, socially distanced with one other person. But use of outdoor as well as indoor gyms must cease. No outdoor group activities are allowed, nor is any pad work or sparring, unless it is with a member of your own household. Social distancing of two metres must be maintained at all times for any one-to-one coaching.

Clubs will be able to tap into a share of £4.6 billion of government funding made available as a result of the latest lockdown. Clubs who will struggle to pay their rent as a result of a loss of income are encouraged to see if they are eligible either for a one-off top up grant, a discretionary fund accessed via local authorities or rate relief. The one-off top-up grants will be as follows: £4,000 for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000 or £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000. For further details see: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/46-billion-in-new-lockdown-grants-to-support-businesses-and-protect-jobs. Club Support Officers should also be able to help.

All the problems the amateur sport has had to contend in 2020 with remain in the early part of this year. It’s never been more difficult. But there is hope. There is a way out of the crisis with a vaccination programme being rolled across the country. The lockdowns will eventually end. Once different sectors are permitted to reopen it’s to be hoped that community sport and grassroots clubs are remembered and even prioritised. These are precious and will need real help and support.

Championships and tournaments are an important part of the fabric of the sport. At present it’s too early to give a date when events and shows can be in reintroduced. 2021 will have to be the year when amateur boxing rebuilds, but the early months of it remain profoundly challenging.

Elite sport is allowed to continue in Britain and internationally 2021, like 2020, is meant to be an Olympic year. The Games have been rescheduled for July 23 to August 8. This Olympics is going to be unusual, not just because of the delay but because of the precautions that will be necessary to conduct it during a pandemic. If Tokyo 2021 can’t take place this year then these Olympics will be cancelled and the next edition will be the 2024 Games. Progression to Tokyo therefore will be the major story of international sport this year.

There is a new date for the European Olympic qualification event, that stalled in March of last year. This will be completed from April 22-26 at the Copper Box in London. A crowd is not expected. The Americas and final world Olympic qualification are meant to take place in May and June respectively but these still need to be confirmed.

Longer term boxing needs to establish its future as an Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee has appointed a Task Force to administer the qualifiers and boxing tournament for Tokyo. AIBA, the beleaguered world governing body, needs to reform. It’s has to address issues with its governance, its finances and with corruption. By the end of 2020 AIBA had finally appointed a new president. But it remains to be seen whether Russia’s Umar Kremlev is the right man to address these problems. His offer in 2019 to wipe out AIBA’s debts only raised serious questions from the IOC, which pointed out the lack of clarity on the origin those funds and that background checks on the origin of funds from external parties is part of the basic standards of good governance expected from an international federation.

In Kremlev’s remarks at becoming president, he did at least draw attention to restoring AIBA’s Olympic status. “We have to unite together and work with one mission, and one mission alone: rebuilding the credibility and trust that AIBA once had in the minds of sports people worldwide and that includes, of course, restoring AIBA’s Olympic status,” he said. “Getting rid of AIBA’s debt will be the first priority. As I promised when I announced my run for the presidency, I will clear this debt in the first six months. My administration will aim to raise $50 million within two years, all of which will be used to rebuild AIBA.

Umar Kremlev AIBA amateur boxing
Umar Kremlev is now in charge of AIBA

“Boxing is the sport of fighters. Our fight today is against financial debt, against incompetence, against corruption, against doping, against poor training, and against poor safety. Strengthening AIBA’s governance structures, and ensuring our checks and balances work, will be the focus of my tenure as president.” 

A key decision and an indicator of how Kremlev’s AIBA will interact with the IOC will come in the first quarter of the year. For the 2024 Olympics boxing’s athlete quota has been reduced by 34 places and while the number of women’s divisions will be increased to seven, from six, the number of men’s divisions will be reduced from eight to seven. A ruling on what these new Olympic weight classes will be needs to be made.

Amid the plethora of their own challenges, the world governing body cannot neglect to finally provide some leadership for the wider sport and help guide amateur boxing as it recovers and rebuilds globally from the impacts of the pandemic.

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