Boxing on the ropes as report says it failed to tackle sectarian problems
City club claims it had to endure a decade of bigotry
The Ulster Amateur Boxing Association has failed the sport because it didn't take allegations of sectarianism and racism seriously.
That's the conclusion of an independent report following a complaint from the Sandy Row Club, whose members are mainly Protestant.
It followed the south Belfast club's claims that it had suffered a decade of "chronic sectarianism" while boxing in nationalist areas.
An independent working group chaired by Dr Duncan Morrow, director of Community Engagement at the University of Ulster, ruled that "chill factors" should be eliminated.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Dr Morrow said there had been individual incidents of sectarianism and racism.
"The people in boxing have spent a lot of time trying to keep their sport as far as they could outside sectarianism, but in this case serious incidents occurred," he said.
"The Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) 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."
Ian McSorley, secretary of Sandy Row Boxing Club, said it had been vindicated for speaking out against sectarianism in the sport.
"It has affected most clubs in some way or another yet we're the only club to lift our head above the parapet and come out with it," he said.
Ulster Amateur Association president Paul McMahon said: "We're going to study the report and we'll release a statement when we feel we've digested it."
Meanwhile, Fergal Carruth, chief executive of the IABA, which established the working group, said it will examine the findings in the report before delivering a response in the new year.
The report rejects the establishment of a new Northern Ireland Boxing Federation as demanded by Sandy Row club, and supported by the Stormont Assembly last year.
Dr Morrow added: "We don't think that setting up parallel boxing federations is the way through this.
"There should be one organisation, but for it to work there need to be clear procedures so that complaints can be made and sorted out."
The report also recommended that boxers from Northern Ireland should have the option, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, of representing Great Britain in Olympic Games or other global tournaments.
Currently, boxers from here can only represent Ireland in international competition unless they relocate to Britain.
During the Troubles in Northern Ireland the boxing fraternity was free to move in loyalist and nationalist communities without fear of reprisal.
But in recent times sources have said elements of sectarianism and racism have crept in because the Ulster Boxing Association didn't take seriously enough that Protestant children were being intimidated. Dr Morrow, who was joined on the independent working group by ex-Ireland rugby international Trevor Ringland, Ulster GAA's head of strategy and public affairs Ryan Feeney, and Billy Boyd, operations manager of Belfast Community Sports Development.
Mr Boyd said the core focus was "to enable boxers to get on with boxing".
"Over the years boxing tried very hard to make sure sectarianism was kept out of the sport," he said. "It's one of those problems which most of the time is well managed but when it occurs it has enormous effects and that's why it is so important to deal with it."
In response to the report, Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: "I encourage the IABA to take swift steps to make the changes outlined in the report and to address all the issues raised."
'Root and branch change' needed, secretary demands - by Chris Kilpatrick
The club at the centre of the furore over sectarianism in boxing said it has been vindicated after enduring more than a decade of abuse.
Sandy Row Boxing Club secretary Ian McSorley said a "root and branch change" of the sport's current governing structures was required on the back of yesterday's report.
The south Belfast club currently has around 250 members, aged from seven upwards.
Mr McSorley said the findings were "damning" of local boxing authorities.
"The points outlined are very similar to those we rose in 2010. A lot of people dismissed them."
Mr McSorley said many other clubs and their boxers across Northern Ireland had been affected by sectarianism – but had been fearful of speaking out.
Mr McSorley told the Belfast Telegraph members of his club had been subjected to sectarianism since its inception in 1998.
The Sandy Row club spokesman added that a radical overhaul of boxing here was required to eradicate the problem.
He said the only point in the report his club disagreed with was the finding there was no need for a Northern Ireland boxing board.
In September of last year members of the club told MLAs of the problems they faced. Following those revelations Wayne McCullough spoke out, claiming his young amateur career suffered from bigotry.
Olympic silver medallist and former world bantamweight champion McCullough is convinced he felt the force of an unspoken bigotry when boxing in the Antrim junior championships in Belfast.
"I could never win an Antrim title. I would beat the guys easily in the final but never get the decision, I got robbed blind – what else could it have been?
"Nothing was ever said to me, but I experienced the bigotry," he said.
"After winning my first Antrim title I then had the chance to go and win my first Ulster and Irish titles and once I won the Irish title, it all just seemed to go away.
"I then went on to represent Ireland and had support right across the island, and it was great."
Veteran coach's sadness over political row
Veteran coach Gerry Storey said he is saddened the sport he has dedicated his life to has been embroiled in a sectarian row.
Mr Storey, head trainer at Belfast's Holy Family club, has worked with top boxers including former world champion Barry McGuigan and Olympic medal winners Paddy Barnes and Hugh Russell.
The 77-year-old is among the sport's most respected figures and helped breach the divide throughout the Troubles by training fighters from across the community.
Mr Storey – who was awarded an MBE for his services to the sport – yesterday met with other boxing officials to discuss the report's findings.
"It's nothing like what happens in some other sports," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "Politics should never have been brought into it."
Mr Storey declined to comment further until he had discussed its findings with fellow officials.
The veteran trainer's most famous protege, 'Clones Cyclone' McGuigan, is renowned for uniting both communities in his heyday. Tens of thousands turned out in the centre of Belfast for his homecoming following his world featherweight title win in 1985.
And thousands turned out to see Belfast's Olympic bronze medal winners Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan last year on their return from the London Games.
Crowds lined out for an open-top bus tour and an official reception at Titanic Belfast for the pair, who represented Ireland.