A leading figure in world boxing has said he is “saddened and appalled” at the sectarianism suffered by a mainly Protestant boxing club in Belfast.
Ray Rodgers, president of Golden Gloves of America, has visited the Sandy Row club on several occasions and says he is fully behind the club’s desire to break away from the Irish body which governs local boxing.
Mr Rodgers has been involved in boxing for 65 years and has worked as a “cuts man” with professionals including Wayne McCullough, Iran Barkley and Hector Camacho.
He has studied a 57-page dossier produced by the Sandy Row club outlining a number of incidents over a 10-year period – including having boxers tripped up on their way into the ring and verbal abuse.
A subsequent report by an independent commission found “there were incidents of sectarianism and racism” to be addressed.
Neutral venues for tournaments and a ban on potentially offensive symbolism were among proposals put forward to the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) by officials from Sandy Row.
However, Ian McSorley, of the Sandy Row club, claims their concerns have not been taken seriously by the IABA and wants a new Northern Ireland-based governing body.
The club secretary said: “It is our strong opinion that Ray Rodgers has shown the way forward on this issue. We also very much hope that the [Sports] Minister will take note of his comments in relation to funding but, regardless of what happens with the funding, Sandy Row isn’t going to die.”
In a letter to Sandy Row Boxing Club, the Golden Gloves president said: “I was saddened and appalled when I read of the many incidents of sectarianism and racism directed towards the boxers in your club. There is absolutely no place in amateur boxing for inequality of this type.
“In the past decade I have travelled to Belfast four or five times. I always made it a point to visit Sandy Row Boxing Club. It is very well equipped and the coaches were very skilled, caring and professional.”
Mr Rodgers goes on to say: “The forming of a Northern Ireland Amateur Boxing Association would be an ideal way to serve the needs and desires of the boxers.”
TUV leader Jim Allister also supports the club’s aspirations.
He said: “The fact that someone of the standing within amateur boxing internationally of Ray Rodgers has come out and backed Sandy Row and calls for a Northern Ireland Amateur Boxing Association is highly significant.”
The Sandy Row club’s own dossier detailing “a decade of sectarian and racial abuse” led to an independent report into the claims being published in December last year.
Chaired by former Community Relations Council chief Duncan Morrow, the panel reported: “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.”
The report adds 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.
However, it said the creation of a separate boxing federation “would deepen and accelerate sectarian divisions”.
Apart from the Commonwealth Games, boxers from Northern Ireland are only entitled to represent Ireland at major competitions unless they base themselves in GB.