Sport

Cross-community project forced to fork out as a result of Irish boxing’s alignment to controversial world body

The Bridges Beyond Boxing programme has been taking teams to America since 2016. Picture by Mark Marlow
The Bridges Beyond Boxing programme has been taking teams to America since 2016. Picture by Mark Marlow (" ")

A CROSS-COMMUNITY boxing programme is being forced to fork out over £4,000 in insurance costs as a consequence of Irish boxing’s alignment with the controversial International Boxing Association (IBA).

Bridges Beyond Boxing is a charity organisation which brings young boxers to the United States for a series of shows every year, with American teams making the return trip as part of a cultural experience that goes far beyond the ring.

Last September, Irish boxers stayed with families in Detroit and Cincinnati during a 12-day trip, before the US team came to Belfast in November.

However, that had been approved before members of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) narrowly voted against a change to its constitution that would have opened up a possible move to rival governing body World Boxing.

Remaining with the IBA means the IABA could face sanctions should clubs travel to any nations who have affiliated to World Boxing since its formation last April – including the USA.

Bridges Beyond Boxing originally contacted the IABA at the end of November about receiving permission to travel, with plans already afoot for a late May trip taking 12 boxers to Boston and Buffalo on America’s east coast.

However, it wasn’t until last Friday that a communication was received, stipulating that “in the event of any club deciding to travel abroad without permission, such club will not be covered by IABA insurance”.

“It needs to be pointed out that the granting of any such approval could render our insurance null and void , due to the fact that we would be operating outside of our own rules,” it read.

“While we have had a long and fruitful association with the USA, and would wish for this to continue, in the current circumstances we cannot grant IABA approval to those clubs who are currently seeking permission to travel to that country.”

Just a few months out from the next trip, and with most of the logistics already taken care of on both sides of the Atlantic, Bridges Beyond Boxing now finds itself attempting to find extra money for fighters’ personal insurance, on top of a wealth of other expenses.

“It seems absolutely mad,” said Joe Lowe, a former Irish champion who has been involved with programme since its establishment in 2016.

“It’s around £340 for insurance per head to go America, with 12 kids at that and you’re running into over £4,000. It’s something we’re probably going to have to look at because we’ve told these 12 kids they’re going, they’re all excited about it.

“Everything is in place on the American side, we’re too far along the track. The disappointing thing is we asked for permission at the end of November. You can’t get a hold of anybody down there, they won’t answer the phone, I’ve sent umpteen emails... and are only getting a response now.

“They know these things aren’t planned overnight. Logistically, there is a lot to be done at both ends – our own team’s fundraising, and then the work in America getting host families, venues, bouts... that doesn’t happen in a couple of weeks.

“So now it’s a case of where are we going to find this £4,000 from? We’re venturing into doing two trips this year, we were planning to take a team out in September, so we’ll be eating into the money for going back later in the year to make this one work.

“We’re self-funded, mostly through donations from America. I know there are other programmes trying to do the same, and this is not the same as going to an international competition for Ireland.

“It’s criminal that we’re having to fork this money out for private insurance. That’ll be another £4,000 in September, unless something changes, so it isn’t sustainable in the long-term.”

Ex-Irish international Joe Lowe pictured with former world champion Tommy 'Hitman' Hearn before Sunday's Bridges Beyond Boxing fight night in Detroit
Ex-Irish international Joe Lowe pictured with former world champion Tommy 'Hitman' Hearns during a Bridges Beyond Boxing fight night in Detroit

And Lowe feels it is unfortunate that projects such as Bridges Beyond Boxing are feeling the effect of the fall-out at the very top of the sport.

“The IBA/World Boxing debate should be totally separate to this kind of initiative,” he said.

“Ireland is a neutral country, we’ve always protected our neutrality since 1980 when we went to Moscow and the Americans didn’t, to LA in ‘84 when the Russians didn’t go. We’ve always had the best of both worlds.

“We weren’t getting involved in politics, it was all about the sport and the kids should never be affected by it. That should continue to be the case.”