Boxing’s dysfunction is its curse and its salvation

Perhaps it is of little surprise, given its inherent dysfunctionality, that professional boxing, particularly those fighters and promoters operating above the commercial water line, has navigated a path through this most dysfunctional of years.

From drive in car park shows, to behind close doors events and smatterings of fans across larger venues, boxing has adapted. Innovated in order to survive. Amateur boxing and those events beneath the gaze of the television cameras have suffered much more harshly in the bleak economics of a global pandemic.

As in all things, it’s the ‘little guy’ who suffers the most.

Without punters for the small hall, micro shows have disappeared from the schedule and Amateur clubs are squeezed to extinction by a lack of support and funding in a time of extraordinary need. The intervention from Anthony Joshua, one of the sports transcending superstars, may save some, but perhaps not all.

In the absence of that pathway, without the accessible venues for youngsters to try and to practice boxing, one wonders what the long term damage to the talent pool the professional code plucks fighters from will prove to be. Alongside the procession of boxers who progress through to pay days in the ring lay the less conspicuous triumphs found by adolescents who need the structure, kinship and nurture available within a boxing gym.

Boxing is an imperfect solution to the ills in play in 2020 Britain, neither a huckleberry panacea nor without cost to the participant who boxes across a lifetime. Scrutiny highlights flaws. But, to many, boxing gyms are the only opportunity that is without financial barrier and available in their time and place. It is help appropriate to the problem and in the landscape of those it offers salvation to.

Funding is, as it always is, key. Enough volunteer hours, enough charitable pursuit is already spent propping up these beacons of hope in downtrodden communities. Alas such is its dysfunction, the quality which enables it to innovate in the paid ranks, that often it is too disorganised to seek the help it needs or present a coherent case to those with cheques to dispense in times like this.

The boxing club in my own hometown, Thorne and Moorends, made the decision to close its doors for the last time last week. Seven years of helping youngsters pursue the sport, and all its tangential benefits, lost in the blink of an eye. Twenty four hours before Anthony Joshua’s donation toward exactly the type of facility the club provided. One hopes a rethink may commence.

Elsewhere in the news this week, further campaigns for a rest home for fallen fighters harmed by the damage they sustained in long careers were publicised. Despite sincere intentions from a host of parties during my life as a boxing fan, precious few initiatives deliver long term financial support to those who gave so much.

For a sport awash with money at the top, it is yet more evidence of its dysfunctional market economics that it can neither look after those discarded at their journeys end nor convince those with the resources to prop up the humble community club offering hope and a gateway in these unforgiving times.

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