Belfast pulls off coup to bring 2020 European boxing championships to city

IABA president Dominic O’Rourke and officials from the Ulster Council and County Antrim Board announce that the 2020 European Schoolboy/Schoolgirl Championships are to be held in Belfast. Picture by Mark Marlow
Neil Loughran

BELFAST will host its first international boxing tournament since 2001 when the European schoolboy/schoolgirl championships are held in the city next year.

Considering the success achieved at Olympic, World and European level since the turn of the Millennium, it comes as no surprise that Ireland’s bid was successful.

And hopes are high that it could open the door to bigger competitions being staged in Belfast, with memories of the 2001 World Championships – which featured the likes of future world champions Guillermo Rigondeaux, David Haye and Carl Froch – still fresh for fight fans across the country.

It is expected that the European schoolboy/schoolgirl championships will run from June 25-July 9 next summer, although that is subject to change, with the new Brook Leisure Centre the likely venue.

The success of the Irish application was confirmed at a European Boxing Confederation (EUBC) conference in Antalya, Turkey last Sunday, which was attended by Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) president Dominic O’Rourke and Belfast boxing strategy development officer Liam Corr.

“It was Dominic who started the conversation around this when he was at the last European schoolboy/schoolgirl championships in Georgia in August,” said Corr.

“Ireland won 18 medals, including two golds, our highest-ever total, and basically we were encouraged to prepare a bid to host the championships as they were open to the idea of a western European.

“Everything happened quite quickly in terms of getting a bidding file and presentation together before travelling to Turkey, and Russia were also in the running so we faced stiff opposition.

“Belfast sells itself in a lot of ways when you’re talking about the history of boxing here, the fighters we’ve produced, Paddy Barnes, Michael Conlan – mention of his name turned a few heads among the Russian delegation – Carl Frampton and Ryan Burnett, our two most recent world champions.

“Then there’s the Belfast boxing strategy itself, the work being done by the County Antrim Board. After our presentation Russia decided to withdraw their application.”

The championships will be open to 12-13-year-olds from across Europe, and while 32 nations competed in Tbilisi last summer, Corr hopes that number could increase for the Belfast event.

And he wants this tournament to open the floodgates for even bigger competitions to take place in Belfast during the course of the next decade.

“This is brilliant news. The whole plan behind the Belfast boxing strategy is to promote and develop the grassroots, so what better tournament to bring here?

“It will be an amazing experience for all the young boxers competing from here, and hopefully there will be a decent representation from Belfast and the County Board area.

“There’s so much talent coming through here and it would be great for them to showcase their skills on a stage like that, and for the kids coming behind them to see that, because these kind of tournaments leave a mark and help create a legacy.

“I was only 10 when the World Championships were here in 2001 but I remember the buzz about the city, and it’s probably only as the years have gone on that you appreciate the significance of a competition like that coming here. It’s huge.

“By hosting the European schoolboy/schoolgirl championships, this is us dipping our toes in the water. We want this to lead onto bigger tournaments – a World Championships, an Olympic qualifier, a European Championships.

“We made that clear to the EUBC, that within the next five to 10 years we want to host a major tournament in Belfast. We’re very keen to do that after this one and, provided everything goes well, which I’m sure it will, I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t be done.”

Gleann's Eoin Hamill lands a shot during his clash with Neddy Carthy (St Michael's, Athy) during Saturday's Boy 3 38kg bout in the clash between County Antrim and a Kildare select. Picture by Mark Marlow

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