No money could compensate a gifted young boxer for losing out on the chance to represent Northern Ireland – allegedly due to anti-Protestant discrimination.
That is the message today from the Equality Commission, which had taken up the case of Belfast man Lewis Crocker after he was denied the chance to represent the Province at Commonwealth level in 2015.
Lewis, now aged 21 and a professional welterweight fighter, hails from the loyalist Sandy Row district in the south of the city.
Despite strong performances (see below), Lewis was left off the team for the Commonwealth Youth Games, open to athletes aged between 14 and 18, and held in the Pacific island nation of Samoa in September 2015.
The Ulster Boxing Council – the local branch of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) – was in charge of the selection for the team.
Lewis believed all the fighters who did get selected were Catholic.
With the help of the Equality Commission, he began a civil court case claiming discrimination on the grounds of religious/political opinion.
The Ulster Boxing Council has now settled out of court for £8,500. Dr Michael Wardlow, the Equality Commission’s chief commissioner, said the Ulster Boxing Council had not admitted liability.
However, it has “acknowledged the hurt, distress and upset suffered by Lewis” and “affirms its commitment to the principles of equality of opportunity”, he said.
Dr Wardlow also said the Ulster Boxing Council has since “introduced new policies, practices and procedures to ensure compliance in all respects with its obligations”.
He told the News Letter he believes there was “no legitimate reason” given as to why Lewis was not chosen.
“Had, at any time, they come back and said: ‘Here is the process by which he was selected or deselected’, there would have been a different conversation,” he said.
“The circumstances of this case left Lewis Crocker convinced that he had been unfairly treated, and that his community background was the reason.”
Dr Wardlow said his commission is contacted by about 3,500 people each year, and out of those takes up only about 50 or 60 cases.
Though this case has been settled with a cash payout, Dr Wardlow added: “It’s never going to redress the fact this young man didn’t get to represent Northern Ireland in the Youth Commonwealth Games.
“All the money in the world won’t pay for that.”
The case brings back echoes of a call several years ago that a new governing body should be set up for Northern Irish boxers, instead of keeping them under the remit of the Dublin-based IABA (under which they compete as ‘Irish’ at Olympic level).
The call came amid claims from Sandy Row Boxing Club that Protestant fighters faced abuse such as spitting, motivated by sectarianism.
Jim Allister, TUV leader, had been a supporter of the move at the time.
In the wake of the news about Lewis’ settlement, he said: “It is long past time that the issues relating to sectarianism in boxing were faced up to. Numerous warnings have been ignored and simply not acted upon in many instances.
“One suspects that if members of the Catholic community were on the receiving end of such treatment the matter would have been dealt with before now. Will if finally be faced up to now?”
Boxer: It was devastating
Lewis had “finished top in tests carried out at a High Performance Camp at the Sports Institute for NI in 2015”, said the Equality Commission, and the IABA’s own high-performance head coach put his name forward for the team.
However, the final choice lay with the IABA’s local branch, the Ulster Boxing Council, which rejected him – though it accepted all the head coach’s other selections.
Lewis told the News Letter: “It was devastating so it was. I thought I was a shoo-in to be picked. It was the experience of a lifetime that I’ll never get back.
“I’m just glad the whole [selection] process is different now – there’s like a criteria as such now. I’m glad the whole system has changed and everything is moving forward.”
Half the money will go to his father. Richard, who has been “a rock”.