British boxing's Rob McCracken says WSB can aid Olympic hopes

By David McDaidBBC Olympic sports reporter
Lee Selby
Wales' Andrew Selby (right) will be fighting for a place in the British Lionhearts team and the Rio 2016 Olympics

Regular participation in the World Series of Boxing will benefit British boxers' future Olympic hopes, says GB performance director Rob McCracken.

With Rio 2016 places at stake, the British Lionhearts team has returned to the event after missing last season.

"Our challenge in the next few years is to get very strong in this format," McCracken told BBC Sport.

"The incentive is, if the boxers win bouts, their funding can go up and they can qualify for the Olympic Games."

He added: "There will certainly be more Olympic places available for Tokyo 2020 than there are this year for Rio."

Over the course of the WSB season, 16 national franchises, split into two groups, will contest matches home and away, with the aim of progressing to the quarter-finals.

Each match comprises five bouts of five rounds and boxers do not wear head guards - unlike at the Olympics where they wear protection and fight three rounds per fight.

The British Amateur Boxing Associationexternal-link (BABA) fielded a team for the first time in the competition in the 2012-2013 series, when they were eventually beaten by Mexico in the quarter-finals.

Least year they decided against fielding a team mainly on the grounds of costs.

British Lionhearts
The Lionhearts team reached the quarter-finals of World Series Boxing in 2013

However, the Lionhearts return to competition after the International Boxing Association, AIBA - which runs the WSB - said 17 Olympic qualification places will be made available to the best boxers across the weight categories after the final in June.

"The whole GB Boxing programme is around the Olympic Games ultimately," said McCracken.

"WSB is very important, it's still a relatively new format but the sooner we get used to it the better."

Among the 30 Brits in the Lionhearts squad are eight medallists from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, including three gold medal winners.

Lofty Ambitions

For them the possibility of securing a place at the Olympics as early as this summer is a clear incentive.

"WSB is a way of qualifying now. If you win all your fights you go to the Olympics - which is the plan," said Scott Fitzgerald, who won Commonwealth gold for England in the welterweight division.

"Getting to Rio is what drives you on and what gets you up in the morning and that's what will push me on this year.

"I've always dreamt of going to the Olympics and it's become more of a reality now after winning the Commonwealths. I've got a good chance of getting there."

Another with high hopes of taking this route to Rio is Andrew Selby from Wales.

The amateur flyweight world number two is undefeated in nine fights in his WSB career so far, and fought for the Italian franchise last season.

"You've got to come first or second in your division to get an Olympic spot and I've come first every year I've taken part," said Selby.

"All I need to do is keep that 100% record. The WSB format suits me and it's also a good stepping stone to the professional ranks."

Although made up predominantly of local fighters, each country franchise must also contain a number of overseas boxers.

Wales's Fred Evans, who won Olympic silver at London 2012, will fight this season for the Italia Thunder team.

The Lionhearts' first match is against the Chinese Dragons at York Hall in London on 15 January.

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