Shake-up will breathe new life into NI boxing, says chief
The Northern Ireland boxing community has always punched above its weight and now it seems the opportunity to represent the country on the international stage on a regular basis is just around the corner.
By the end of the year, the Northern Ireland Boxing Association believe they will be recognised by the world governing body AIBA as the sole authority for amateur boxing in the six counties. At a stroke that would turn upside down the current all-Ireland structure which has Ulster governing the nine counties.
The NIBA have struggled for funding since their inception following a decision taken by Stormont Assembly members in 2012 to support the formation of such an organisation. But once AIBA confirm their affiliation then it will lead to enormous change, according to NIBA secretary Terry McCorran.
McCorran and the NIBA as a whole have always insisted they are fighting for "equality" for their members and those who are currently under the authority of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, the governing body for all amateur boxing on the island.
"When we get that piece of paper welcoming the NIBA to the world governing body AIBA, I would say that right away we'll have around 23 clubs joining us and it will grow from there," said McCorran, head coach at East Belfast Boxing Academy.
"When we formed we started off with 17 but we are down to nine because our clubs were starved of funding because they were no longer members of the IABA and they had no choice but to go back to the IABA or they would have had to close their doors.
"That will change overnight because the NIBA will be under Sport UK and derive funding from that body as do England, Scotland and Wales. I have no doubt that there will be clubs from every part of Northern Ireland joining the organisation... every community will want to be a part of it.
"This will breathe new life into boxing in Northern Ireland. Just imagine the home nations in the Ulster Hall - you would pack it out.
"And let's be clear, this is an association for everybody - for everyone who wants to have the chance to box for Northern Ireland. But if there are those who want to stay with the IABA and box for Ireland, nobody will be standing in their way.
"But we will have the chance to take kids from the streets of north Belfast, west Belfast, east Belfast and around Northern Ireland and give them an opportunity to travel - to have life experiences and improve their life quality and give them sporting chances they would never have had."
The boxing body have been seeking recognition from SportNI but those talks have failed to reach any positive outcome, leading McCorran and others within the NIBA to believe that the government-funded organisation fears a domino effect with other all-Ireland controlled sports also seeking to set a Northern Ireland governing body.
McCorran added: "I'm sure that there are many sportsmen and women who would love to represent Northern Ireland in the same way that the national football team is able to.
"We have kids who can run around in Northern Ireland tops and dream about playing for Northern Ireland, we want the same for our young boxers - standing at the World Championships in a Northern Ireland strip.
"Let's be honest, the IABA don't want Northern Ireland to break away because down through the years the majority of the major medals have been won by Belfast men. But we know there are people who will want to be with us because a lot of them are not happy that they have to go to Dublin all the time for big championships, they don't like a lot of the decisions given in Dublin and they don't like what's happening in the IABA.
"We're going to be sending teams to represent Northern Ireland in Wales, England, Scotland, the European Championships and the World Championships. I would hope that by Christmas we will be part of AIBA and when that happens I expect to see a great increase in participation and we will be there to support new clubs as they look to get set up.
"This really is a very exciting time for boxing in Northern Ireland."