A FORMER UK sports minister has welcomed proposals which could see the governance of local boxing transferred from Dublin to Belfast.
In the Assembly on Monday, MLAs voted in favour of the setting up a Northern Ireland Boxing Federation in a break from the All-Ireland body.
The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) has been heavily criticised by some local politicians over its alleged lack of response to allegations of Protestant boxers suffering years of sectarian abuse.
The claims are contained in a 57-page dossier compiled by the Sandy Row club in south Belfast.
Ulster-born Kate Hoey, who is the MP for Vauxhall, recently visited the club and fully supports the call for a breakaway body.
“This is a big step forward for all those clubs in Northern Ireland who wish to give their young boxers a real choice in who they should compete for.”
Sandy Row Boxing Club has claimed its fighters faced intimidation from nationalist supporters of the sport while competing in nationalist areas.
TUV leader Jim Allister told the chamber: “If these young people have the ability and achieve competition results, they can attain the ultimate and compete for, and on behalf of, their own nation, and instead of having to wrap themselves in an Irish tricolour when they do so, have the opportunity as everyone else does to take pride in their own flag.”
The IABA has said its ethos is in no way sectarian.
The PSNI has confirmed it is treating a verbal abuse incident in North Queen Street in 2010 as a hate crime.
Mr Allister said the problem of sectarianism had been addressed in football.
“What is good enough for football is good enough for boxing. Let us see the same pro-active action so that young people who take pride in their boxing skills can indeed participate, free from the burden and the cloud of sectarian abuse that, as the Sandy Row report demonstrates, so many have been subjected to for so long,” he added.
DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen called upon Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin to remove sectarianism from the sport and to ensure funding is allocated equitably across all communities in Northern Ireland.
“Boxing should not be a sport confined simply to some areas of Belfast, or even just to the city as a whole.
“Provision should be made for the whole of Northern Ireland and opportunities provided for wherever there is demand and need,” she said.
SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley described the report from the Sandy Row club as “very disturbing” and said he was “sure that all interested in the promotion of sport will be eager to ensure that boxing is free from this type of behaviour”.
Ms Ni Chuilin said there is no room for sectarianism in sport and that boxing has always been at the forefront of joining communities.