Boxing

Belfast still aiming to host European championships in summer of 2021

IABA president Dominic O'Rourke (centre) is hopeful Belfast will still host the European schoolboy/schoolgirl championships next year, after the competition - scheduled to have taken place in July - was cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic
Neil Loughran

BELFAST is still set to host the European schoolboy/schoolgirl championships next summer, according to the president of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA).

It was confirmed last December that the city had been selected to host its first international boxing competition since the 2001 World Championships came to Belfast, and had been due to take place at the new Brook Leisure Centre from July 1-9 2020.

However, like so many sporting events across the globe, the Europeans fell victim to the Covid-19 pandemic and has been put on the backburner until next summer.

Alongside Belfast boxing development officer Liam Corr, IABA president Dominic O’Rourke was heavily involved in helping bringing the European schoolboy/schoolgirl championships to the city.

And O’Rourke remains hopeful the top emerging talent in the continent will still be strutting their stuff in Belfast.

“The championships are still pencilled in for 2021, hoping that everything is okay,” he said.

“The European Boxing Council (EUBC) has been in touch to see are we still interested in hosting the championships, and we’re still allocated them. But it just depends of what is happening by then and how the virus recedes.

“We’re still interested, but it’s a waiting game. It allows us at least to look into sponsorship and those kind of things in the meantime. We can only hope the virus has declined by that stage.”

The same uncertainty hangs over the domestic schedule for the rest of the year, and possibly beyond, too.

Clubs across Ireland were finally allowed to open their doors on August 1 but when boxers are allowed to return to full contact training, and when championships can get back up and running, remains to be seen.

And the introduction of a two-week lockdown in Laois, Offaly and O’Rourke’s native Kildare in a bid to contain spread of the virus in the midland counties has further muddied the waters.

“We were hoping to get back in contact in mid-September, but whether that happens or not I’m not sure,” added O’Rourke, an experienced coach at the successful St Michael’s club in Athy.

“You’d have to give them at least four weeks for preparation before you could have a championship, so mid-October would be the absolute earliest we could open the season. Our plan is, if we do get back to contact, that we continue from where we left off with the schoolboy championships, and then we’ll move on from there.

“The EUBC has said that the U22s and youth and juniors will take place around November. If we got back in mid-October we could start to select teams for those championships, but it’s all up in the bushes at the minute.

“We’re back in the clubs now, the next step is to get back sparring and doing pad work. It’s going to be hard to get kids used to going back into clubs again when they haven’t been there for the last five months.

“We’ve a lot of work to do to help and support our clubs at this time.”

Hopes had grown in recent weeks that there could yet be an Irish elite championships held in December, as High Performance coaches turn their attention towards the rescheduled European Olympic qualifier in early 2021.

O’Rourke, though, remains unsure.

“It’s very hard to pinpoint.

“This is another setback for us with the three counties being closed down. If that spreads to the other counties around, it sets the calendar back again.

“The way things were moving a few weeks ago, we would’ve been hopeful but this has set everything back. All we can do now is follow the guidelines.

“Germany and some other counties are back in contact, but for us it’s just going to be a gradual process.”

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A purpose-built boxing ring has been installed in the Loughshore Boxing Club's new Ballinderry premises

LOUGHSHORE BACK UP AND RUNNING THANKS TO HELPING HANDS

JUST a month after wondering whether the club had a future at all, Loughshore BC threw open the doors of its new premises last week and is now building towards a bright future.

Previously based in Ardboe, Loughshore were informed at the started on July that the building they had been using since 2017 was no longer available, leaving them facing a race against time before the August 1 reopening date for clubs across Ireland.

As an interim measure, club coach Michael Mitchell converted his garage into a makeshift gym, but somewhere bigger - and with the ability to house a boxing ring – was always going to be required.

In recent weeks, though, the wheels started to turn as local businesses approached Mitchell about opening a new facility in his native Ballinderry, with the Antrim and Donegal County Boards pitching in to offer their support.

From no home and nowhere to go, Loughshore held its first session last Tuesday night.

“I had done up the garage, and a few people said to me why do you not build a shed up at your own place? I told them I hadn’t the money, but a few different people came at me and offered to help fund it, and here we are,” said Mitchell.

“I have to say a big thank you to all the different companies who came forward and helped us out. It was unreal – I honestly don’t know what would’ve happened without them.

“The help didn’t end there either. We had to build a new boxing ring because the shed we got is too low for the ring we had, so a brother-in-law of mine made us one within a week.

“Everything’s happened very quickly and a lot of things just fell into place at the right time, with clubs only allowed to open there again last week. All we ever wanted was to get back up and running, and now we can look to the future again.”

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