Boxing chiefs in call for justice and right to wear NI vest on the World stage
Parity of esteem is an aspiration that has been on the lips of many within society for many years and now an exasperated Northern Ireland Boxing Association are demanding their right to be fully recognised.
The association was initially made up of 17 clubs but has been reduced to nine due to a lack of funding as Sport NI only recognise the all-Ireland, Irish Athletic Boxing Association as the solitary governing body within amateur boxing. This is despite MLAs in 2012 voting in favour of the establishment of the Northern Ireland Boxing Association.
Chairman of the NIBA Billy McKee and secretary Terry McCorran are now calling for government action to finally resolve the issue of recognition, which they insist is depriving boxers from representing Northern Ireland.
McCorran, the head coach at the City of Belfast Boxing Academy in east Belfast, says he has been shocked by the negative reaction within the sport to the formation and aspirations of the NIBA.
"It's down to a question of equality and justice. When we went down this route it was said to us that we would be being unfair to those boys and girls who wanted to represent Ireland, that we would take that right away from them. We have never said that and we would never stop anyone representing Ireland, that is not what we are about," said McCorran.
"When I have a young boy or girl come to me and ask, 'Can I box for Northern Ireland?' I have to tell them, 'No' and that can't be right. I've had coaches leave my club because they didn't think it was right and we have clubs who have been starved out of the association because of a lack of funding. They had to go back to the IABA or go to the wall. Something has to be done.
"The only chance to box for Northern Ireland is once every four years at the Commonwealth Games."
Midland Boxing Club chief McKee is equally frustrated, stating: "People are only asking for their birthright to be recognised and that is the right to box for Northern Ireland.
"It is wrong that if you're in an all-Ireland association, Sport NI will not recognise you if you want to start up a Northern Ireland association, whatever the sport is.
"We are a limited company recognised by Stormont and yet Sport NI will not recognise us so we receive no funding.
"I have lost senior boxers because they cannot get fights so they had to go back to the IABA."
The sport in Northern Ireland was rocked by an investigation in 2013 into sectarianism on the back of abuse suffered by the Sandy Row club with the independent inquiry's report stating that the sport had been affected by "incidents of sectarianism and racism".
While for many the report's results came as a shock, McCorran - honoured with the Mark Pollock award for hope in 2013 due to his work in the community - says he was not surprised at all by the findings and insists the issue of sectarianism remains to be resolved within amateur boxing.
"I found out very early on after coming into boxing 10 years ago that boxing was a fantasy, this fantasy that everybody loved everyone. I found out very, very quickly who was your friend and who wasn't and they made it very clear... there are genuine people out there but there were many who made it clear what they think about me," said McCorran.
"Northern Ireland is being used as a sectarian term within boxing. Whenever we mentioned that boxers should have the chance to box for Northern Ireland, we were being told that we were sectarian by members of the IABA and to call me a sectarian bigot would mean that I would have to disown half of my family.
"As far as I'm concerned, there are no protestant clubs or catholic clubs. There are perceptions of what you are because of where your club is.
"I was perceived as a loyalist boxing club because of the part of east Belfast that I am in but I'm a boxing club.
"I have people from 12 to 13 different nationalities in my club and different religions, so it would impossible to say I'm a protestant club.
"We are all being judged on where our buildings are and not on what we do.
"Our boys and girls deserve as much funding as anyone else."
Those sentiments were echoed by McKee, who believes that - at a time when the IABA is in perpetual crisis with two factions south of the border claiming to run the sport - the opportunities for boxers within a Northern Ireland set-up would be plentiful.
McKee added: "I know of no club anywhere that asks someone what religion they are.
"The only time I was asked about the religion of my boxers was by the Belfast City Council who asked me in a form to write down how many catholic boxers I had and how many protestant boxers and I just binned it.
"This club since its formation always had different religions and nationalities.
"Everyone can benefit from a Northern Ireland Boxing Association - we can have boxers going to the European Championships, the World Championships and we have the coaches and facilities to give boxers every opportunity to be as good as they can be."