The setting up of a separate body for boxers in Northern Ireland will only heighten religious divisions and threaten to split the sport for generations, a new report has claimed.
However, a plan should be considered which under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement would allow Northern boxers to declare for Team GB rather than Ireland at elite level, such as at the Olympic Games, according to an independent working group which examined allegations of sectarianism and racism outside the ring.
It followed complaints last year by Sandy Row Amateur Boxing Club in south Belfast.
Duncan Morrow, a former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, headed the group, which acknowledged there had been incidents of sectarianism and racism.
He said the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (IABA), the sport’s governing body, should work to eliminate chill factors, develop a clear process of intervention and formalise a robust disciplinary and resolution process to deal with them.
However, the group ruled out Northern Ireland having its own administrative setup.
Mr Morrow said: “The creation of a separate federation for boxers in Northern Ireland would deepen and accelerate sectarian divisions — potentially splitting boxing for generations to come on sectarian lines.”
A strategic review of the association’s current governance structures in the North to drive its future agenda and ensure that the key focus goes back on boxing is one of a number of recommendations in the report.
Others include limiting team colours to two rather than three, investing in community relations training for coaches and volunteers, establishing safe and neutral venues for championship shows, introducing a formal selection process for Commonwealth Games coaches, and developing a protocol and code of conduct around the flying of national and contentious symbols at boxing bouts.
Trevor Ringland, the former Ulster, Ireland, and Lions rugby player; Ryan Feeney, head of the Ulster GAA’s community development, strategy, and public affairs; and ex-amateur boxer Billy Boyd, who is currently the operations manager for the Belfast Community Sports Development Network, were also part of the working group, which was established by the IABA in the aftermath of complaints from Sandy Row last year.
The current and complicated process to allow an individual in Northern Ireland express their national identity — an issue which affected many sporting organisations in Northern Ireland — had been identified by the group, according to Mr Morrow, who is director of community engagement at the University of Ulster.
Boxers belonging to clubs in Northern Ireland are required to box for Ireland unless they relocate and affiliate to a club in Britain.
The group said it was of key importance that the legal implications of the Belfast Agreement for athletes in Northern Ireland was clarified.
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