IMAGINE a world where the best fought the best. Not only once or twice a career but at every major event. Where you didn’t have to endure bickering about who should be the A-side, the B-side or the C-side. Where there were no backroom battles about what gloves to use, the size of the ring, whether one person’s team could or couldn’t sneak a layer of foam under the ring canvas or whatever. Where it was about the boxing. Where the tournaments were meaningful. In fact where the medals meant everything.
Of course, you don’t have to. It’s called amateur boxing and you don’t need to throw a table at anyone to get there.
Amateur boxing is by no means perfect. On these pages we’ve documented the controversies, the dubious judging, the financial and ethical maelstrom that saw its international federation AIBA suspended by the International Olympic Committee. At its worst, it is bad. But when it gets it right, it’s very, very good.
The Olympic qualifier that restarted in France was a reminder of what Olympic boxing can be. To a viewer these tournaments are high intensity, high level, high speed bout after bout. It was often quite brilliant, occasionally ugly and almost always compelling. There is drama in all of these contests because the stakes are real. Becoming an Olympian is the dream for all the boxers involved. It’s also, more often than not, the difference between a hard career laboured in obscurity and a genuine breakthrough. Unfolding in front of you, you’re seeing boxers changing their lives.
It’s also packed with great stories. Caroline Dubois [above, left] qualifying for the Olympics in her first major senior tournament on the same day that her brother Daniel came back in the pros. Frazer Clarke [pictured below], overshadowed first by Anthony Joshua then Joe Joyce, had one chance and three rounds to finally get an Olympic place after 11 years of trying. Charley Davison, after a seven year break from the sport, the mother of three is back like she’d never been away. (In case you were wondering, when compared to home schooling three children during the lockdown, making an Olympic dream a reality is straightforward.) I can, and will, go on.
Overall 11 Great Britain boxers qualified and did so through just the one tournament. What sets this team apart is that there are potential medallists throughout the squad. Britain has the talent, it’s also got a system to help those boxers reach their full potential. It was clear at the qualifier that the GB boxers were in shape and mostly in good form. Not easy to achieve when Covid and travel restrictions hampered preparations. That’s an achievement for the whole set up. GB Boxing has the resources but also makes effective use of them, not just with a phalanx of coaches but a team of support staff. Rob McCracken is famous as a pro trainer but managing that whole programme as performance director is a real skill.
We don’t know if this success is going to continue for another decade. Amateur boxing clubs have been hammered during the pandemic and they haven’t had elite athlete exemptions to keep running during lockdowns or even start competing again. The clubs, which ultimately bring these boxers through, need all the support they can get. The long-term future of British boxing depends on it.
But GB regularly winning major medals over the last decade is a milestone. The boxing programme’s positive culture of achievement being well regarded within Team GB is another plus for the sport.
And for the 11 coming back from France, whatever happens next, they’re always going to be Olympians.
The highlights of the European Olympic qualification event will be on BBC 2 at 11.30am on Sunday.