NI amateur boxing affected by 'sectarian and racism' - report

Amateur boxing in Northern Ireland has been affected by "incidents of sectarianism and racism" an independent report into the sport has found.

The report was instigated by the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, following allegations from the mainly Protestant Sandy Row Club in Belfast.

Sandy Row said its members had suffered a decade of "chronic sectarianism" while boxing in nationalist areas.

Tuesday's report said efforts should be made to eliminate "chill factors".

"The Independent Working Group acknowledged that there were incidents of sectarianism and racism," said report chairman Dr Duncan Morrow.

"The Irish Amateur Boxing Association should work to develop a clear process of intervention and formalise a robust disciplinary and resolution process to ensure that incidents are dealt with as they arise."

The report added that boxers from Northern Ireland should have the option, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, of aiming to represent Great Britain in Olympic Games or other international tournaments.

Currently, Northern Ireland boxers can only represent Ireland in international competition unless they relocate to Great Britain.

Report's main recommendations

  • Devise plan to allow Ulster boxers the option of representing Britain
  • Develop official procedures to deal with incident/potential incidents of sectarianism and racism
  • Penalties to be imposed on clubs for failing to enforce anti-sectarianism policy
  • Advises against setting up a new Northern Ireland boxing governing body
  • Develop code of conduct around flags and symbols
  • Ulster boxing governance structure should be reviewed
  • Safe and neutral championship venues should be explored
  • Establish a formal selection process for Commonwealth Games coaches

"The Independent Working Group believes 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.

"Having considered this issue, the Independent Working Group believes that it would be very important to clarify the legal implications of the Good Friday Agreement."

The report does not recommend the setting up of a new Northern Ireland Boxing Federation which was supported by the Stormont Assembly last year.

"Some of boxing representatives made the case for a Northern Ireland Boxing Federation being set up to develop the reputation of young boxers from Northern Ireland on the international stage and to guarantee them more high-level fighting exposure," added the report.

"However, the Independent Working Group feels strongly that the division created by such a move would split boxing for generations to come.

"The Independent Working Group believes the formation of a separate and competing Northern Ireland Boxing Federation would not resolve the sectarian tensions around national representation or club rivalry but would effectively segregate boxing in Ulster.

"Furthermore, future club competitions are likely to be more rather than less contentious with higher risks for individual competitors and clubs."

Dr Morrow, who is the University of Ulster's Director of Community Engagement, was joined on the independent working group by former Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland, Ulster's GAA's head of strategy and public affairs Ryan Feeney and Billy Boyd, the operations manager of Belfast Community Sports Development Billy Boyd.

Welcoming the report, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said it was important to "acknowledge the good work which goes on throughout the sport of boxing".

"This report was dealing with a small minority of cases, based on factors which originate outside the sport, and usually prompted by those with no interest in boxing," added the minister.

"It should not undermine the positivity within boxing, nor take away from the hundreds of people who have found it a positive force for good.

"I encourage the IABA to take swift steps to implement the recommendations outlined in the report and address the issues raised and acknowledged by the group."