As our nation’s boxing representatives make a fantastic start to their Olympic campaign, winning all four of their initial contests, not all is so rosy back at home. As we approach the new boxing season there is some disenchantment and discontent within the amateur boxing community of England. For the last few years England Boxing, formerly Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE), has undergone a number of changes to its governance, its strategy, the competitive rules and most recently to its process of registering boxers, coaches and officials. For some, the introduction of England Boxing’s new online registration system ‘The Vault’ combined with significant rule changes is a step too far and there is a motion to form a ‘breakaway’ organisation. But how widespread is this disillusionment and what does it mean for amateur boxing in England?
Well let’s have a look at some of the factors that have sparked disquiet and have prompted some individuals and clubs to form a breakaway group. The new online registration system, The Vault, is an initiative by England Boxing (the NGB) to centralise the registration of boxers, coaches and officials. Each individual, whether they are boxer, coach or official, must register independently with The Vault and pay a fee to England Boxing for their annual licence. Formerly arranged through geographical regions, this move threatens to reduce power and income from the divisions. In addition to having to adapt to an online system, registration for coaches and officials requires some or all of the following: electronic photograph, proof of first aid qualification, Disclosure and Barring Service (formerly CRB) certification and child protection course attendance. An impossible demand and extra bureaucracy are the cries from the breakaway – but these are best practice guidelines, demanded by the Home Office and actually important elements of governance that parents sending their children to boxing clubs would expect to be in place. A lack of communication by England Boxing is another whinge from the breakaway. The Vault collects every single individual’s email addresses and will therefore enable the direct dissemination of information to individual boxers, coaches and officials; it doesn’t rely on regions filtering information which it chooses to pass on. Conversely it will offer the opportunity for individuals to open a direct dialogue with England Boxing – increasing the potential for two way communication. Finally the Vault will offer financial transparency – which has perhaps been absent to date. The cost of a boxer’s registration has differed in the past depending on which region they boxer’s belong to and regions were responsible for declaring their registrations to England Boxing – perhaps it is the loss of this financial independence that is causing most consternation for reason which are I’ll leave you to contemplate.
Amateur boxing has undergone a number of rule changes in recent years and such changes are not to everyone’s taste. We see the somewhat surprising announcement by AIBA (boxing’s world governing body) to allow professional boxers to compete in the Olympic Games, together with the creep towards a professional style of boxing in the form of World Series Boxing (WSB) and AIBA Professional Boxing (APB) alongside the more traditional AIBA Olympic Boxing (AOB) more commonly known as amateur boxing. Within AOB we note the removal of headguards, a reduction in men’s weight categories from 13 to 10, the change from 4 x 2 minutes rounds to 3 x 3 minute rounds for open class boxers and a change to the scoring system from a cumulative empirical one punch, one point system, to the professional style 10 point must system. Many of the disenchanted want to return to the old rules and the new England Boxing Alliance (England), the breakaway, coincidentally mirroring the old organisation’s acronym ABAE, have vowed a return to the old rules. Whilst England Boxing, the sports National Governing Body (NGB), have been held up as the architect of these changes, nothing could be further from the truth.
England Boxing as the NGB is a member of the sport’s World Governing Body, AIBA. It is AIBA who have instigated these changes and it is they who insist that the rules are implemented absolutely with severe sanctions facing those who dare to dissent. These are not empty threats as England discovered in 2013. The NGB at the time chose not to comply with some of the new AIBA rules and were immediately banned from all international competitions. This left both England and Great Britain Boxing impotent, with absolutely no opportunity for competition (at least under the St George or Union Jack flag). This metaphorical checkmate forced the funding bodies, Sport England and UK Sport to question the structure of the NGB and along with the insistence by AIBA that the they towed the line, ‘England Boxing’ was born with a different structure of governance and the NGB acquiesced to the rule changes – and this is where we find ourselves today. One complaint from the breakaway group is the failure of the NGB to involve its members in the decision to change regulations – but it should be clear that even the NGB are not masters of their own destiny when it comes to setting the competitive rules, so consulting its members is nugatory. So where does this leave the England Boxing Alliance (England) if they choose to revert to the ‘old rules’? The answer is in no man’s land. Such an organisation will be unable to enter their boxers into England Boxing tournaments, their boxers will be unable to compete against England Boxing registered boxers but more importantly they will never have the opportunity to represent their country at either National or International level; they will be limited to domestic contests only.
But, says the new ABA(E), if enough clubs decide to break away, Sport England and even the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, will once again be forced look closely at their support and funding of the NGB. It focuses on the London Region’s AGM, held today, as an indicator of the discontent within the boxing community, dubbing it ‘Independence Day’. ‘London vote to leave England Boxing by overwhelming majority’ it announces on various social media platforms. But let’s look at this more closely. The vote did indeed favour a majority of 75 to 21 votes to leave England Boxing but each club in attendance was given two votes. In fact only 58 of London’s 125 or so clubs bothered to attend the regional meeting. Out of those clubs in attendance, 37 chose to leave England Boxing, 8 abstained and 13 chose to stay. So in reality only 37 out of 125 clubs in London have chosen to leave England – not a majority at all I’m sure you’ll agree. But Independence Day it certainly is- the majority of clubs in London have chosen to give their boxers and members the best opportunities available to advance in their sport alongside 400 plus other clubs in England who have chosen to register using The Vault. By remaining with England Boxing all of these clubs have broken away from the anchors that have held back the progression and modernisation of our sport for far too long.