Inquiry over Belfast boxing club's claims of harassment
THE IRISH Amateur Boxing Association (IABA) and the North’s sports department are to investigate complaints by a boxing club in a loyalist area of Belfast that it has been subjected to 10 years of sectarian and racist harassment by nationalist boxing supporters.
The Sandy Row Amateur Boxing Club near central Belfast has published a detailed 57-page report outlining what it described as a “decade of chronic sectarianism that has terrorised” many of its members. It has also complained members from different ethnic backgrounds have suffered racist taunts when fighting in some nationalist areas.
The club, which has about 90 male and female members, was established in 1998. A former member, Alanna Murphy, has fought Olympic gold medallist Katie Taylor in the National Stadium in Dublin, according to club chairman William Magee.
Mr Magee said some of the club’s promising boxers were forced out of the sport by intimidation. Explaining the kind of abuse the boxers suffered, he said: “One of our best boxers, a lad from a Chinese ethnic background, was called a ‘chinky Orange bastard’.”
He said the club had regularly complained to Irish boxing authorities as far up as the IABA. It had received some sympathetic reaction, but nothing practical had been done to tackle intimidation.
The report comes in the wake of the successes of Belfast boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan in the Olympics – both from nationalist backgrounds – and challenges what has been a long-standing, proud boast of the boxing fraternity that boxing crosses community divisions in Northern Ireland.
While Mr Magee accepted the people who ran clubs in the North were not sectarian-minded, he said the club’s experience was that several of their supporters were.
The report details a “chronology of abuse” over a period from 2000 to 2010. This included young Sandy Row boxers being attacked as they left a Co Antrim boxing championship in Twinbrook in west Belfast in 2000; sectarian chanting against Sandy Row boxers at a tournament in west Belfast, with one drunken man assaulting one of the boxers, in 2002; and sectarian abuse of the club’s boxers at a tournament in north Belfast in 2004. Incidents since then have included bottles being thrown at young club members at a tournament in north Belfast in February 2010.
The club stated the main aim of the report was to highlight a problem that has “for far too long” remained hidden.
It has put forward an eight-point plan it believes could combat the problem – the main elements of which are holding tournaments in neutral venues, and the wearing of neutral colours during events.
The club called for “a root and branch review of boxing in Northern Ireland, as well as a complete restructuring and reform of the sport to make it fair, equal and inclusive for all”.
Don Stewart, chief executive of the all-island IABA, said it was conducting a “thorough investigation” into the allegations after which it would “be open to holding discussions with the Sandy Row boxing club in order to resolve any grievances they may have and to reach a common solution which is mutually beneficial to all clubs attached to the IABA”.
“The ethos of the IABA is in no way sectarian or political, nor does it discriminate against any religious beliefs, political ideologies, or race,” added Mr Stewart.
A spokesman for the North’s sports department said the Sinn Féin Minister for Sport Carál Ní Chuilín was aware of the complaints and has “tasked officials to take the matter forward as part of the development of a boxing strategy for the north of Ireland.”