THE pipeline of talent coming on to Britain’s Olympic squad has been affected by the pandemic and its subsequent shutdowns. “It prevented a lot of young boxers from competing for about 18 months and meant that we could not run any assessment camps,” GB performance director Rob McCracken told Boxing News. “It does mean we are behind where we would ideally like to be.”

New boxers from Scotland and Wales have come onto the GB squad and further English boxers will be selected. All the while opportunities to join the GB programme remain open. They’re running assessments, while upcoming national championships and international tournaments are routes on to the team. To help hopefuls, GB Boxing have released a new guide explaining how to become an Olympic boxer.

The main pathways to an assessment for the élite international squad are through reaching the final of the national elite championship or being nominated by your home nation, as well as being scouted by GB itself.

The assessment comes in two stages, with at least three camps training with the World Class Performance programme.

“The assessment process is rigorous and designed to give the coaches and me an opportunity to have a good look at the boxers. Most boxers will be expected to take part in a number of three-day assessment camps, which will be held over a period of months,” McCracken explained. “Having the boxers come to multiple camps gets them used to the environment and gives them a chance to relax and show what they can do. It also gives us the chance to get an idea of the boxers’ personalities and characteristics as well as their technical capabilities. 

“Obviously we’re looking for talent and ability, but we also look for boxers that can demonstrate physical robustness, a good attitude and a willingness to learn and respond well to coaching.

“The majority of boxers that come through the assessment route will almost certainly attend several assessment camps before making it onto the squad. Boxers grow and mature at different rates so it’s important that we give them time to develop. There are boxers we have had in for assessments recently that are not quite ready to be part of the squad yet but may well be in six or 12 months’ time. We have told them what they need to work on and are continuing to assess them. Hopefully they will show the necessary development so that we can bring them into the squad later in the year,” he added.

If successful after assessment, boxers would join an Emerging Talent group or the programme’s academy squad before ultimately being able to progress to the élite podium squad.

Their funding from UK Sport means GB can only have a certain number of boxers on the squad but the Emerging Talent group lets them have a set of athletes close to winning a place on the team train occasionally with the set up. “[This] enables us to engage with boxers that are knocking on the door and have the potential to step up. Having a small group like this train with the squads allows us to monitor their progress and keep them engaged with the WCP so that when a place becomes available they are able to step-in and know what is expected of them,” McCracken explained.

There are alternative pathways through being selected for an international championship by England, Wales or Scotland and performing well. Medalling at the senior Worlds, senior Europeans, World Youth championships or Youth Olympic Games would lead a boxer directly to GB’s World Class Performance programme. A gold medal at the Youth Europeans also earns a place on the programme, while a silver or bronze in that competition secures an assessment. For a boxer who’s not already on the GB squad, winning a gold or silver medal at the upcoming Commonwealth Games will also put them on to an advanced stage of the assessment process.

“Performances in Youth international competitions are an important route to the GB Boxing squad.  A boxer that performs well in international tournaments as a Youth but then loses in the early rounds of the NACs [national amateur championships] could slip through the gaps,” Rob said. “It’s really important that we give talented young boxers the opportunity to try and get into the GB Boxing squad and become an Olympic boxer. It is a superb platform for the rest of their careers, so we are making sure we collaborate closely with the home nation associations to do as much as we can to ensure that boxers do not slip through the gaps and fall out of the system.”

Olympic team

Uncertainty continues to plague the Olympic sport. For a start the boxing weight classes for the Paris 2024 Games still need to be confirmed. “We operate on the principle of having the boxers compete at what we believe is their optimum weight, while also having a plan for how we can adapt if they have to move up or down.  We are fortunate to have a support of a team of sport scientists, including a nutritionist and strength and conditioning coaches, so we are able to make adjustments to the boxers’ regime and adapt to changes in the weight classes if we have to,” McCracken noted.

Worst of all, boxing has been left off the programme for the 2028 Games and its world governing body IBA needs to follow a pathway to meet the IOC’s criteria and restore the sport to the Olympics. “We are always looking six to eight years ahead so we are planning for 2028 and working on the basis that boxing will be part of the Olympic programme in Los Angeles,” Rob said.

“With regard to 2024, we know that a lot can still change in the final two years so we have to be flexible and responsive. If you look at recent history and the cases of Joshua Buatsi, Caroline Dubois and Charley Davison, they all joined the GB Boxing squad less than two years before an Olympic Games that they went on to qualify for. It shows the door is always open and there is an opportunity for a boxer to force their way into contention for Paris 2024.”