Katie Taylor earned it all going against grain – some things never change
Poster girl of London is trying to reclaim ground for women’s boxing
Katie Taylor will fight in the European Championships in Bucharest. Last year the event was cancelled. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Sometimes it seems as though Katie Taylor simply salted herself away after the summer of the Big Bang. Sometimes it feels like she appears on the skyline only as a flickering image, her long days spent thumping punch bags as big as she is at the gym in Bray.
Even now as the European Championships begin in Polyvalent Hall in Bucharest, there is a sense that the European, world and Olympic champion has receded back to a more sheltered place in the Irish bosom, not out leading an Olympic clamour like back when the ExCel Arena held so many promises.
The European Boxing Federation will point to this year’s entry of 172 boxers from 31 countries compared to the first championships held in France in 2001, where 78 fighters came from 14 countries, as movement forward.
There has been organic progress but the assurances of London, where the sessions were wild and boisterous and full, remain as much broken as unfulfilled. The male boxing world is changing at such a pace it is confused and difficult to follow, but Taylor stands with her face into the wind trying to reclaim ground that she believed had already been won. London is worth remembering if only for what has gone.
“All of IRELAND Raise A Pint for Katie Taylor’s Gold Medal Russian beatdown!!” – Samuel L Jackson.
“Katie Taylor congratulations on winning gold. You are amazing” – Oscar DeLaHoya.
“Wooooooohoooooo!! So delighted for Katie. Her dream achieved. Very proud” – Brian O’Driscoll.
“It’s gold for the Fighting Irish!! Katie Taylor wins gold for Ireland! ” – Evander Holyfield.
“Ireland was definitely in the house for Katie Taylor. Congrats Katie. #WorldClass” – Lennox Lewis.
Reverting to typePost London was a time of enlightenment, a chance to push on. But less than a year after Seb and Boris folded the tent in Streatham, the feeling returned that the sport was reverting to type. The backdrop was Taylor accumulating discourtesies and knockbacks.
Reward for the sell-out crowds in London was to cancel the 2013 European Championships. Here they are now in 2014, the same year as the women’s World Championships in Korea.
An absurd aside to the cancellation was that Taylor and her team were led to believe the 2013 event would be staged in Dublin. A coronation of sorts. But before dates were offered, it slipped out at a press conference, which Taylor attended to talk about her preparation for the competition, that the event had been scrapped.
There was no reason given by the European Boxing Federation. There was no information about the why or what debate took place or who voted or how it helped the sport.
At the time, an internal administrative shift between France and Italy was taking place within the organisation; the Women’s European Championships became co-lateral damage. No one, least of all the boxers and their coaches, deserved a reason. Governance by edict ruled the day.
It has been 22 months since Taylor last boxed in a major event – an Olympic Games, World or European Championships. She competed in and won the low profile EU Championships last summer in a venue she described as a “tent with a ring in it”.
The men’s sport has moved on with the men migrating towards the World Series of Boxing (WSB), now in its fourth season, and APB Pro boxing (APB), where they compete professionally but retain Olympic status, nothing was put in place for the women. Once out from the shadow of the Olympic Games and the constraints that the International Olympic Committee’s charter placed on sports to be even handed and progressive, women’s boxing in the public consciousness has flatlined.
“It’s crazy,” says Pete Taylor, Taylor’s father and coach. “Again they missed a golden opportunity to develop women’s boxing after the Olympic Games. The women were more supported in London than the men. Now . . . they’re forgotten about. It’s right back to the level it was before the Olympics . . . the way that opportunity was missed.
Back burner“They could have at least put some girls in the WSB and developed them a bit that way. The men have it, why not the women? It’s disappointing and I don’t understand why they left it on the back burner. The boys have WSB and APB and the girls have been forgotten about.
“Someone should challenge it on the grounds of discrimination,” he adds. “I mean look at London . . . There were three weight divisions in London [men have 10]. In Rio it’s three weight divisions again. There is no development in that.”
This week the Irish women’s boxing team flew to Romania, an early flight on Wednesday morning. On Tuesday they didn’t know what hotel they were staying at in Bucharest. Pete Taylor was unsure if these European Championships were qualifiers for next year’s European Games or if the European Games were qualifiers for anything else. More importantly, he didn’t know what to tell the drug testers, who would regularly test Taylor because of her success.
“The European Games? There’s no criteria for qualification for that. Is there?” he says. “Does anybody know? That needs to be clarified. I don’t know and Katie doesn’t know if the European Games is a qualification tournament for the Olympics. It’s a secret.
“And, you know this week we can’t find out where we are staying. It’s not Irish boxing’s fault, in fairness, because they have asked about 10 times. The testers too. We must tell them but we can’t find out where we are going to in Bucharest,” he says.
‘Punished here’“Who gets punished here if the testers want her, if they want Katie? We can’t even tell them where we are going to be and this is Monday and we’re going at 7.30am on Wednesday. This is a side people never see.”
Sometimes Irish boxing wonders why Taylor goes it alone, does her own thing. The reason is that way it will be done. Two weeks ago she headed off to Germany with the men’s team for a training camp. She was the only woman who could do that because she is accepted as an equal, even an asset.
There is a solo, old school way about the way she and her father have had to do business over the years. The biscuit tins at the door for the modest cover charge for her Bray Boxing Club shows, her low media presence – she slipped out of the country for Bucharest unannounced. But there is also a local cost. While it is a good thing women’s rugby team is televised by RTÉ, they have kept a distance from arguably the best athlete Ireland has ever had.
Some would say that’s the nature of struggle and while Taylor’s popularity and abnormal levels of admiration from all corners hasn’t fallen away, her visibility has because there has been precious little for her.
“They are still not getting respect. That’s the word I would use,” says her father. “Hopefully Katie will make it easier for those girls coming behind and hopefully they will have an easier route than Katie. You know, I thought the sport would really grow but it didn’t. I’ve talked to the WSB and to the APB and it’s been promises, promises, promises . . . but they are not showing the women respect.”
Boxing will continue to parade her as an iconic, aspirational figure, a flesh and blood representation of what the sport can offer everyone. But the poster girl of London earned it all going against the grain. Sometimes it feels like she still is.