Kate Hoey: New NI boxing body would recognise nationality rights of both traditions

Kate Hoey
Kate Hoey

Last week, along with Nigel Dodds MP and Jim Allister MLA, I met the chief executive of Sport NI Antoinette McKeown.

The delegation was led by Billy McKee, former President of the Co Antrim Boxing Board and now chairman of the recently constituted Northern Ireland Boxing Association (NIBA).

Four representatives from clubs also attended.

Our demand was simple — that Sport NI recognise NIBA as a legitimate body for boxing in Northern Ireland.

The governance of sport in Northern Ireland is complicated. Every sport has evolved differently. On the island of Ireland the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) governs Amateur Boxing, an arrangement inherited pre-partition.

It is based on the All-Ireland provincial framework (Ulster, Leinster, Munster and Connaught) adopted in sports such as rugby, hockey and cricket amongst others. With this arrangement where a sport is an Olympic one then athletes from Northern Ireland currently can only represent Ireland in the Olympic Games.

There is an England Boxing, Boxing Scotland, Welsh Boxing and together they form the British Amateur Boxing Association which selects boxers to be in the British team for the Olympics.

Northern Ireland boxers cannot be part of this and have no choice unless they move to the mainland Britain to compete for their country. Ironically there is a Northern Ireland boxing team for the Commonwealth games which the International Boxing Association recognises as legitimate.

The Belfast Agreement has now enshrined an individual’s right to be Irish, British or both. The IABA is clearly discriminating as they offer a citizen of Northern Ireland only one choice — to represent Ireland.

Another example is tennis.

If Andy Murray had been born in Belfast rather than Dunblane he would have been ineligible to play in the Davis Cup British team and would have received no funding from the Lawn Tennis Association which has no jurisdiction here.

But NIBA is about much more than the Olympics. Terry McCorran from the City of Belfast Boxing Academy emphasised that a fundamental aim of NIBA was to increase membership of boxing clubs in Northern Ireland.

He outlined the important new opportunities it would open up for both male and female boxers to compete on the international stage.

At the moment Northern Ireland cannot box in the European or World championships. Terry said how they would like to bring the Boxing nations of the world to Northern Ireland and he reminded us of the history of boxing in the Ulster Hall. Why can we not have England boxing Northern Ireland here?

NIBA would help improve the level of coaching and the number of officials in Northern Ireland. At present everything is concentrated in Dublin.

Most importantly NIBA would represent everyone in Northern Ireland who want to box and would support boxers who wish to box under the flag of the tricolour just the same as those who wish to box under the Union flag.

IABA need not be de-recognised. Sport NI could recognise both.

All of the delegation re-iterated that NIBA was not about religion or politics but about fairness for boxing as a sport in Northern Ireland. Sport NI seemed to understand there was an issue.

So I was horrified when on Tuesday Jim Allister asked a simple question of the Sports Minister as to her view on NIBA.

Her response was shocking. She said “I have not been informed of any application by Sport NI. I have heard a lot of speculation in the media. Any attempt to break up a sport on the basis of geography, politicking and point scoring is unfortunate for athletes.”

Well minister, this isn’t about point scoring, geography or politicking.

It is about equality of opportunity for Northern Ireland youngsters to get involved in boxing.

Isn’t the job of the Sports Minister to promote Northern Ireland sport?

• Kate Hoey is Labour MP for Vauxhall