Jim Allister: Commonwealth snub shows Ulster boxing long marred by anti-Protestantism

TUV leader Jim Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister

Lewis Crocker missing out on representing Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Youth Games because he was a Protestant is shocking and unacceptable.

The case is all the more shocking when one considers that the problems with anti-Protestant sectarianism within boxing has been a matter of public record for a considerable period.

Lewis Crocker, a 21-year old boxer from Belfast

Lewis Crocker, a 21-year old boxer from Belfast

Back in 2012 I secured the backing of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the formation of a Northern Ireland Amateur Boxing Association having been made aware of the deep-rooted problems with sectarianism within the sport. Those concerns were vindicated when the following year a working group, established by the then sports minister:

l Found there were a “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”;

l Identified the need for the IABA to strategically review its organisational structure and governance procedures “to ensure that issues that arise are robustly dealt with”;

l Agreed “that the nationality issue in the Olympics is a nettle that needs to be grasped”, not just when it comes to boxing but also in relation to other sports;

l Found 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” and in relation to boxing recommends that progress on the national representation issue be assessed after 12 months;

l Heard a number of serious claims of direct intimidation at specific events on both sides of the community. The representatives of amateur boxing acknowledged these incidents and their seriousness and agreed that action should be taken;

l Heard considerable anecdotal evidence that low-level sectarian abuse and a culture of ‘keeping your head down’ over these issues continues to exist in boxing;

l Took the “strong view” that clubs “are directly responsible for the management of incidents of sectarianism when and where they occur in connection to boxing. This includes the management of supporters and behaviour at bouts. Institutionalised sectarianism often takes place because the majority group fails to act to protect the minority on the basis of a poor understanding of the meaning of these events and their effect on those on the receiving end. Acting and being seen to act as well as being seen to take responsibility are important”;

l Recognised that the absence of clear grievance protocols and procedures for the imposition of penalties in the case of the incidents that were perpetrated against Sandy Row contributed to the escalation of the current dispute and seriously exacerbated the sense of alienation in the Sandy Row club and:

l Recommended a “review of existing practice in this regard to ensure that a process for complaint and investigation is in place”.

Sadly the report was left to gather dust and now we learn that one of the consequences was that a young man missed out on the opportunity to represent Northern Ireland on the international stage just because he was a Protestant.

Having now turned professional Mr Croker will never have the opportunity to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games. This is in spite of him finishing top in tests carried out at a high performance camp in 2015 and being recommended for selection by the head coach.

He had a proven record in competition with seven Irish titles to his name and international experience due to competing in the world and European championships.

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. The Assembly had made recommendations and the department produced a report which have not been acted upon.

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 it finally be faced up to now?

Mr Croker’s damming comment that “judges and politics can stop you from winning and progressing” should cause everyone inside and outside of the sport to reflect on this matter.