Following the successful religious discrimination case taken by Belfast boxer Lewis Crocker, a leading official in the sport has said Protestants can be assured of fair treatment.
Crocker, 21, who has since turned professional, approached the Equality Commission after being overlooked for the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games team despite coming top in preselection performance tests.
The Sandy Row-born fighter claimed his religious background was the main reason for his exclusion from the team he believed to be made up of Catholics only.
He was paid £8,500 in compensation earlier this week after the Ulster Boxing Council (UBC) – local branch of the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) – settled the case without admitting liability.
However, Equality Commission chief commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said the UBC had “acknowledged the hurt, distress and upset suffered by Lewis” and “affirms its commitment to the principles of equality of opportunity”.
Dr Wardlow said that although compensation was paid in this case, “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.”
UBC president Kevin Duffy said he urged young Protestants to accept his assurance that the amateur boxing authorities have had a “real hard look” at the transparency of their decision making processes, and that the sport remains open to all.
“Our really strong message to members of the Protestant community is that we welcome and want as many people to be involved as possible, and to assure them that any decisions will be very open, and that people will see very clearly why decisions have been made,” he said.
“We would encourage any boxer and give them an assurance that they are very, very welcome in our sport and will get an absolute fair hearing across the board.
“Boxing has always been a sport that has pulled people together and crossed divides ... but what we have to do is to have a real hard look within ourselves, like all other sports. If there is anything being perceived or interpreted by anyone as them being disadvantaged because of their background then we have to deal with it.
“I think we have taken steps to try to do that and will continue to do that.
“We are delighted that this has been brought to a conclusion and that Lewis himself, hopefully, is satisfied with the outcome. We are apologetic about his experience and how he felt.”
Mr Duffy was elected UBC president last October – more than two years after the discrimination alleged by Crocker – and was not involved in the 2015 team selection process.
“I think maybe unfortunately in the past, processes in terms of decision making weren’t clearly defined, which allowed for a bit of interpretation,” he added.
TUV leader Jim Allister said the problems with “anti-Protestant sectarianism” in amateur boxing have been well documented over a number of years, making the treatment of Lewis Crocker particularly shocking.
Writing in Wednesday’s News Letter, Mr Allister says he strongly believes that if Catholics were receiving the treatment Crocker experienced, then the “matter would have been dealt with before now”.
Mr Allister also refers to a working group report commissioned in 2012 that found there were “number of chill factors that currently create anxiety within the sport” which need to be “eliminated to ensure a high level of inclusivity on both sides of the community”.
He said: “Numerous warnings have been ignored.”
Crocker’s coach at the Holy Trinity club, Michael Hawkins, told the News Letter he believed that not only should Crocker have been selected for the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games, he should have been team captain.
On Tuesday, the The Irish Boxing.com website posted a web link to the story, with the comment: “We used to take real pride in the fact religion never came into boxing.”