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Know what I mean, Harry? Prince dukes it out in boxing ring

Published 06/06/2016

Prince Harry stepped into a boxing ring as he began a new phase of his public life - promoting the benefits of sport to help vulnerable communities and young people.

As the world mourned the death of Muhammad Ali, Harry joined the founder of south-east London's Double Jab boxing club behind the ropes to learn first hand the difference the sport has made to the local community of New Cross.

And in a lighter moment he squared up to one little boy being put through his paces during a training session with some of the club's most promising boxers.

Alongside Harry's official roles supporting the Queen, championing military veterans, raising awareness about HIV, through his charity Sentebale, and tackling mental health issues - he will focus on encouraging the efforts of local sports clubs to transform the lives of their members.

During the coming year he will travel across the country visiting small clubs and centres to promote their work - a decision that followed several months of private visits and meetings.

The Double Jab boxing club, is in New Cross, a deprived area of London, and has helped keep some of the young men that train under its roof focused and away from gang violence.

But in recent months it was left shocked by the death of Myron Yarde, a 17-year-old musician who trained at the club but died in April after being stabbed.

Patrick Harris, founder, coach and president of Double Jab, spoke to Harry about the benefits of boxing as they sat in the club's ring, with members of the mentoring charity Sported, that are helping his organisation reach the next level.

He said afterwards: "The idea behind the club is to take the youth off the streets and chip away at the gang culture and turn kids lives around in a positive manner."

Mr Harris said about the teenager's death: "That's exactly what we're trying to avoid, to turn the kids' lives around before they get involved.

"A lot of the kids they've got no role model to follow, no one believes in them - what we're trying to do is instil belief in them, instil self discipline and create better human beings.

"What you can't do in a classroom with a pen, in here you can become bigger and better - win a championship and become someone."

Mr Harris said by coincidence he had planned to do a five kilometre charity run in aid of Parkinson's disease this month and he would now run in honour of Ali who had suffered from the illness.

He said about the legendary boxer: "I'm going to dedicate that run to Muhammad Ali and his greatness - what he did to change people's perceptions of so many things, not just boxing, it was amazing."

During his visit to the club Harry chatted to the coaches and young men sparring and working on punch bags at the centre.

Formed four years ago, the not-for-profit organisation's volunteer trainers believe their lessons in discipline, respect and commitment provide the boxers with valuable life lessons.

"You all look like you're built for boxing,'" Harry told a group of young men who included Courtney Bennett, 20, who hopes to win a place in the national amateur boxing squad in the next few year.

Harry asked the 20-year-old from nearby Deptford: "You want to be the next Muhammad Ali?" then joked he looked like him apart from his beard.

Mr Bennett said he is focused on his boxing and trains at 5am before he starts work, and also carries out sessions in the evening.

But he only started visiting Double Jab by accident after a friend on probation persuaded him and some others to come along three years ago.

He said: "Everybody else said 'it's not for me' and my friend went down a different path and he's behind bars now, I stayed and it kept me out of trouble.

"I wasn't a goody two shoes but I took a different path to him, I kept on coming and I haven't looked back since."

Mr Harris who founded the club told Harry earlier that for the past 120 years his family have been involved in boxing in south-east London.

And as the promising prospects at the club shadow boxed and sparred Ray, the founder's four-year-old grandson, donned a pair of gloves and playfully boxed with Harry for a few moments.

The club is being mentored by Keith Bates, a former Google manager, who volunteers with the charity Sported, which supports community sport clubs and groups across the UK.

Chris Grant, chief executive of Sported, said: "Young people in this part of London face all sorts of challenges.

"Muhammad Ali when he had his bike nicked, it was a policeman who said to the 12-year-old Ali 'I run a boxing club (why don't you come along)' what these guys do is the same thing."

Before leaving Harry watched a women's group working out on punch bags and marvelled at the strength of 13-year-old Shanay Robinson as she smashed her gloves into a bag.

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