JEFF POWELL: Boxing’s considerable momentum will be derailed if coronavirus continues to keep fans away and kids out of the gym… and it won’t be the only sport to crumble from poverty and no young talent
- The future of all sports is in jeopardy due to the impact of the coronavirus
- Further postponements of big fights is just the tip of the iceberg for boxing
- The sport is at risk of crumbling from the bottom due to a lack of young talent
- There is almost no amateur boxing at all and very few gyms are allowed to open
Boxing’s long-term future will be thrown into jeopardy if the coronavirus prohibitions on crowds in arenas and kids going to fight gyms continue deep into next year.
And boxing will not be alone in falling victim to poverty.
The further postponements of big fights following the government’s latest version of lockdown – world heavyweight title battles involving Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua among them – are just the glittering tip of a Titanic iceberg.
The long-term future of boxing is under threat due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions
It is not only the economy, stupid, which is close to going under. There is a dire warning implicit here for all sports.
In common with most, boxing is imperiled. Led by football which has already seen once-mighty Bury go bust, with Macclesfield and 15 other much-loved lower League clubs predicted to follow them out of existence, boxing is just one of many of our most cherished pursuits at risk of crumbling from the bottom.
The equation is terrifyingly simple: No foundations – no young talent.
Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren and British Boxing Board of Control chief Robert Smith are among key figures voicing concerns for the hardest game after the cancellation of test events with small crowds which were scheduled for next month.
The same applies to football et al.
Warren and rival promoter Eddie Hearn have already had permission revoked for some fans to be admitted at one pilot show each.
Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren is among those voicing concerns for the hardest game
Warren is now pushing back the already delayed British and Commonwealth title blockbuster between Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce from October to late November. ‘Fingers crossed for that,’ he says.
Hearn intends going ahead with the hasty Dillian Whyte v Alexander Povetkin rematch next month, behind closed doors. But such restrictions are financially impractical for Dubois-Joyce. As they are for interim world heavyweight championship defences by Hearn’s stable-leader Joshua against Kubrat Pulev and Warren man Fury in his trilogy fight against Deontay Wilder, both of which are pencilled in for December.
As for the much-anticipated Fury v Joshua spectacular, anything less than a full house Wembley Stadium would be unworkable.
It is reasonable to expect that all those bonanzas will take place at some point before the end of next year. But it is the grass roots which are most deeply worrying.
Warren says: ‘Our superstars are eager to fight again but can probably wait for their big purses, which like Premier League football wages are bankrolled by our television contracts. Not that those salaries can go on uncut for ever, by the way.
‘But right now without the finance for undercards the younger boxers are going broke. That’s forcing many of them to drop out of the game.
‘We are continuing to put on shows without fans but there will be a growing problem if the lock-out keeps going well into next year.
‘Worse still, at the moment there is nowhere to go for youngsters who want to take up boxing. Where is the future for the sport in that?’
Smith amplifies the issue: ‘Right now there is no amateur boxing at all, while very few gyms are allowed to open under the coronavirus restrictions. This is a serious concern.’
These issues threaten, also, to derail boxing’s considerable momentum. Before Covid-19 struck prize-fighting was experiencing an enormous boom. Smith reported his Board to be sanctioning an all-time annual record in promotions with hundreds of events large and small.
There is currently no amateur boxing at all while very few gyms are allowed to open
Gyms and clubs were welcoming unprecedented numbers of youngsters – girls as well boys –keen to lace up the gloves. Boxercise had become the hottest fashion in the trendiest work-out studios.
Warren, who like Hearn was headlining queues of British world champions on huge shows in arenas and stadia, says: ‘We mustn’t let the moment pass completely.
‘Of course public safety and safeguards against sickness come first. But sport itself is vital to people’s health and well-being, mental and physical. It is in no-one’s interest for our sporting population to get out of the habit of taking part and watching sport. We have proved that boxing can take place in a secure environment and further government restrictions should be proportionate.’
Meanwhile the show goes on this Saturday in an echoing York Hall, Bethnal Green. Warren promotes Josh Taylor’s mandatory defence of his unified IBF and WBA world super-lightweight titles against Thailand’s also-unbeaten Apinum Khonsong That will be broadcast live on BT Sport along with former world flyweight champion Charlie Edwards moving up for a first fight at bantamweight, against Kyle Willams.
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