AFTER becoming England Boxing chief executive in 2017, Gethin Jenkins will step down this month. His time at the helm has encompassed a tumultuous period for the sport, with the coronavirus pandemic in particular having a seismic impact on boxing activity. Yet among the concerns there are still real reasons for optimism.
“Societal problems hit amateur boxing first,” Jenkins reflected. “People are wary; is there going to be another lockdown, what is the impact of a new strain, higher energy costs and everything that’s coming with it.” The cost of living crisis is another threat to boxing clubs, as the sport now recovers from the pandemic.
“When we shut down in March , cancelling the Junior championships, little did we think in reality, other than some training level engagement, we’d not be able to put on any competitive boxing until June, July the following year. That’s a significant impact, especially compared to a lot of other sports, especially outdoor sports,” Gethin said.
Boxing clubs have had to adapt their operations in a significant way. It’s been a difficult process. “Just when we thought there was light at the end of the tunnel, somebody moved the tunnel,” Jenkins reflected. “We locked down in March 2020, thinking we’d be okay by May, we’d postpone the championships and reschedule for the back end of the year, which we did eventually but a year later. It kept on coming, the delays and the time involved.”
The pandemic showed the key role governing bodies have when it comes to regulatory support, guidance and advice on how to operate for their members. “Rather than having nearly a thousand clubs trying to understand the government’s information, the governing body takes that information, distils it and works out how to apply it to the specifics of that sport,” Jenkins points out.
Another key step in the recovery was getting the national championships back up and running. Most of these had to be finished in December, another period of great uncertainty when cases of the new coronavirus variant were rising and there was little clarity on whether the government was going to bring in further restrictions. With “a significant amount of effort for all involved, not just from the governing body and the organisers but the regions, the clubs and the officials” that decision was vindicated.
The crisis in international boxing has overshadowed the sport in recent years. Boxing has been left off the programme for the 2028 Olympics. IBA, the renamed governing body, must bring in reforms to satisfy the IOC to try to restore boxing to the Olympics in time for the Los Angeles Games. One of the key challenges for the new chief executive of England Boxing will be to support that process. “As England Boxing we do have a role to play and we continue to engage with IBA and our other fellow federations to make sure boxing plays its role and is a member of the Olympic movement. That’s going to be key,” Jenkins said. “It’s vitally important that boxing remains on the Olympic programme and also that boxing at international level is fair.”
There are few better showcases for the significance of the Olympics for boxing in the UK than the most recent Olympics, where the GB team secured their greatest medal haul in 100 years. “A reflection of the work and effort they have put in and GB Boxing have put in during this period, in extremely difficult times. It shows with the proper support and funding and effort that’s gone into it what can be accomplished across the piece. We’re seeing that reflected in not only the boxers’ performance in terms of medals but how they came across and the publicity and the awareness about the impact boxing has across the country,” Gethin said. “What great ambassadors they are for the sport.”
There is plenty of cause for hope on the domestic scene. Clubs are coming back from the pandemic and can hold their own shows. The England talent pathway was badly affected by the shutdowns but that was previously highly successful and can be restored.
“We lost momentum,” Jenkins said. “Rebuild it and we go again. What the pandemic has shown is the thirst and the desire there is for boxing and the competitions and the pathways and everything that leads from that.
“We start from a much stronger developed base and hopefully we can continue to build and grow.”
“We’re addressing diversity and mental health and disability and ensuring gender programmes are further grown and enhanced,” he continued.
“We’re a lot bigger and a lot stronger than we were at the start of the cycle and going into the pandemic our numbers are back, that’s thanks to the work the clubs have done and the demand for amateur boxing in the communities.
“We’ve got the strategy in place for the next five years and it builds on what’s gone before, inspiring and transforming lives through boxing and I think that’s not just a title but can be lived and is delivered through the clubs. We’ve got the funding, which is coming through, we’ve confirmed the funding with Sport England and that can support a lot of the outreach and community work that’s undertaken. We’ve got the numbers back and the funding in place and a strong foundation to go forward, for somebody else to take it on and improve it even more.”
It’s that work in communities that has impressed Jenkins throughout his time at England Boxing. “As a sport I think there are very few that have the social outreach and impact a sport such as boxing has,” he said. “The impact boxing has in some of the most marginalised communities in the country. It’s just amazing, every day we see such stories of the difference that boxing is making and the clubs and the coaches and the volunteers and the officials are making and the impact they’re having. I’m still in awe of that.
“What the clubs do, in outreach and support in those communities, there’s very few who can match that. Forty per cent of our clubs are located in the areas of highest deprivation and the impact and the service and the difference they’re making day in, day out, much of it unheralded and unseen, is phenomenal. I think the sport is second to none in that. You’ve then got the the sport itself and the impact that it can have both physically and mentally and what it offers. It’s been an honour to have been a part of that.”