The secretary of a mainly Protestant boxing club in Belfast has said a new report on sectarianism in the sport has “vindicated” his complaints to the Irish boxing authorities.
In August 2012, Sandy Row published a 57-page dossier outlining what it called “a decade of sectarian and racial abuse” before the club was suspended from the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) in 2010.
An independent commission – chaired by former Community Relations Council chief Duncan Morrow – was set up to investigate the claims and yesterday confirmed that “there were incidents of sectarianism and racism” to be addressed.
When the Sandy Row dossier was first published, secretary Ian McSorley said he had been lobbying for a return to the traditional red and blue vests, as boxers from nationalist areas entering the ring in Irish tricolour attire was leading to “a very unhealthy atmosphere” for the young Protestants.
He said his attempts to secure reassurances that his boxers could compete safely in “politically neutral environments” had been ignored by the boxing authorities.
“We have had boxers tripped up on their way into the ring, spat at and verbally abused and we can’t keep putting young people in that position,” he said.
Dr Morrow, the current director of community engagement at the University of Ulster, said his panel had consulted with the boxing community to ascertain how division in Northern Ireland has impacted upon the sport.
He said many of the issues identified also affect other amateur sports – particularly around national identity and international representation issues.
“The Independent Working Group acknowledged that there were incidents of sectarianism and racism and therefore believes that the IABA should work to eliminate a number of identified chill factors, develop a clear process of intervention, and formalise a robust disciplinary and resolution process to ensure that incidents are dealt with as they arise.
“However, the Independent Working Group believe that the creation of a separate federation for boxers in Northern Ireland would deepen and accelerate sectarian divisions – potentially splitting boxing for generations to come on sectarian lines.”
The report goes on to say that boxers from Northern Ireland should have the option, in keeping with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, of aspiring to represent Great Britain at the Olympics or other elite tournaments.
Apart from the Commonwealth Games, boxers from Northern Ireland are only entitled to represent Ireland at major competitions unless they base themselves in Great Britain.
“The Independent Working Group believes that the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, along with other sports, should consider what creative ways could be found to enable elite representation of individual Ulster boxers in either Team GB or Ireland teams at the Olympics.
“We have also recommended a strategic review of the IABA’s current governance structures in Ulster, which will be important in driving the organisation’s future agenda, ensuring that key focus goes back on boxing,” the report added.
Speaking to the News Letter following the report’s publication, the Sandy Row secretary said he had no confidence in the bodies currently governing local boxing.
He said: “We believe the only way forward is for a new board to be set up which is inclusive for everybody.
“The report has totally vindicated Sandy Row and the stance that we have taken.
“It was a difficult stand to take and a lot of boxing clubs wouldn’t speak out because, as it stands in the report, of the chill factor and how they would be treated within the sport.
“You would get the chill factor and be pushed to the side.
“They are more concerned with their boxers doing well in competitions and if they complained then he’s not going to go anywhere; he’s not going to get on trips.
“We took this stance simply because we were being pushed out of the sport and being given the chill factor.”
Mr McSorley said his club was studying the report “but now it’s up to the boxing boards to sit down and come up with what they are going to do”. He added: “The Commonwealth Games are coming up which proves a need for a Northern Ireland amateur boxing association.”