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With no place at the 2028 Olympic Games, what will become of amateur boxing?

Anthony Joshua Olympic gold medallists
There’s so much to admire about boxing. But there’s plenty to worry about too when it comes to the sport’s Olympic future, writes John Dennen

BOXING NEWS is the oldest and greatest sports magazine in the world. I can say that now without accusations of bias because after 12 years or three whole Olympic cycles working here I will be leaving.

To write for Boxing News is like nothing else. It’s been going strong since 1909, through two World Wars, one Covid pandemic and countless historic events in this great sport. Today it’s not only a magazine, it’s also a vast digital brand. Working for it is always a privilege. But you feel the pressure too; from your obligation to deliver for Boxing News readers to also having this thought at the back of your mind that you’re writing boxing history. That just as people revisit Boxing News’ archives, to see how the magazine covered the great names of previous generations, in years to come people will be reading what we write now.

I’ve been privileged too to have written extensively about the community that’s been the foundation for so much of the success British boxing enjoys today. Amateur boxing always gets the respect it deserves in these pages, but deserves to be much more widely appreciated too. The clubs are producing tremendous boxers, an extraordinary six medals for Brits at the most recent Olympic Games suggests something is going right with the system that feeds through to the excellent GB programme. But clubs don’t only churn out championship competitors. Coaches understand intrinsically that they’re mentors, that they provide boxing sessions but also support their communities in a host of different ways, everything from life lessons, to providing structure, discipline and a positive future direction for the people they work with. It’s about the boxing of course, but it’s also about so much more.

The first person I ever interviewed for Boxing News was Paul Edwards. Then the Liverpudlian, fresh off winning the ABA championships, was a touted professional prospect. He’d go on to win the British title, and have a good pro career even if he was perhaps expected to go further. Now, all these years later, he’s coaching at his beloved Salisbury ABC.

“You miss that competitiveness but I got that back tenfold when I was coaching the kids,” Paul told me this week. “Seeing kids win national titles is a special feeling.”

“Year in year out, coaching a kid from 10 years old till he grows up to be a man, they become close to you. To see them be successful, even to keep them in the gym for so long is a great achievement as a coach,” he added. “There’s nothing better than seeing them kids in the gym and progress.”

What’s true of Salisbury is true of so many other gyms. “Amateur boxing clubs are so special. But you’d have to go in one. As soon as people go in one they feel it. I’ve seen it for years, I’ve seen people coming in and just going wow, this is what it’s all about,” he said. “I do think boxing clubs are so underappreciated.”

The threat that looms on the horizon, that should keep everyone at every level of the sport, professional and amateur, awake at night is that currently boxing is not on the programme for the 2028 Olympic Games. If IBA, the world governing body, cannot resolve issues with corruption, officiating and its finances to the satisfaction of the International Olympic Committee then it won’t be restored to the Games.

So many star boxers are made, and establish their fanbases, thanks to the Olympics. So many top fighters honed their skills and gained vital experience through Olympic programmes like GB Boxing and the international competitions they were guided through during their Olympic cycle. For boxing to be expelled from the Games will be devastating. The clubs, the root of the sport, will be hurt too.

“It really worries me,” Edwards said. “What we’ll start doing is losing them [kids in the gym] and that’s bad for everyone. That’s a ripple effect that can’t happen. That’s my big worry, we’ll start losing them.”

We all have to hope that powerbrokers in the sport fully realise the gravity of the threat, raise their voices and push for the necessary changes before it is too late.

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