The Way Forward

15 July 2008 – by Cormac Campbell

It has been extolled at length on these pages that Irish boxing is suffering from the absence of a genuine title above the national title and below the European crown.

Granted there are Intercontinental baubles, the British and Commonwealth crowns for boxers from Northern Ireland and the EU title. Moreover, some of our best have gone to the US to further their careers, but the reality is that boxing is now a strong all-island industry with more and more fighters being offered the opportunity to ply their trade at home rather than having to go abroad.

But for this arrangement to remain sustainable, Irish boxers need to be able to earn well and in professional boxing that means having a recognisable belt around their waist.

There is no doubting that due to the likes of Andy Lee, Matthew Macklin and Jamie Moore fighting for it, the Irish crown has grown in significance but unless boxers of this quality fight each other it will remain merely a stepping stone on the path to a European shot.

At present the chances of this happening are somewhere between slim and none. Thus, as attractive as clashes between the likes of John Duddy and Jamie Moore or Matthew Macklin and Andy Lee are, they would need considerable international TV financing to become a reality something the Irish title is unlikely to attract.

But what of the BBBCs Celtic Title?

Given its name, one could be forgiven for assuming that all Irish, Scottish and Welsh boxers should be allowed to fight for it but speaking exclusively to on the matter, BBBBC General Secretary Simon Block said that it is not that simple.

A boxer who is a citizen or who was born in the Republic of Ireland is eligible to apply for a British Boxing Board of Control license, he said over the phone.

And then, subject to where he lives – he would have to be a resident of Great Britain or Northern Ireland – that would determine in which area the boxer was registered.

In relation to the Celtic Titles there is a qualification that the boxer is born or living for a number of years in one of the Celtic countries Ireland, Scotland or Wales. But a boxer who holds only a BUI license is not eligible to box for any of the BBBC titles.

Some boxers have both licenses I want to make it clear there is nothing sinister in that. We co-operate greatly with the BUI. In fact there was a British title fight, which took place in Dublin, which was exceptional (Tony Oakey v Brian Magee 2007). But anyone who takes part in one of the titles that are regulated by the British Boxing Board of Control must be a British Boxing Board of Control license holder.

The qualification for a Celtic Championship is to either be born in that area or to be resident for not less than four years. That specifically covers Northern Ireland because the jurisdiction of the Board doesnt cover the Republic of Ireland as a separate Country with its own boxing organisation,

So any boxer from the Republic who moves to any one of the three countries would qualify for the Celtic title but in theory if they moved to Manchester they could qualify for the English title.

Perhaps owing to Ireland and Britains linked history the BBBCs regulations in relation to boxers from the Republic and their eligibility is a little more sympathetic than for boxers from other nations.

We have separate regulations regarding to Republic of Ireland boxers and their qualification as well. For example a boxer who was born in the Republic of Ireland but who becomes a British citizen the day after he can fight for a British title, Barry McGuigan would be an example. But for every other country, for example France, in the world there is also a five-year residency period as well.

So as it stands, a boxer from the Republic would either need to obtain a British passport or simply move up North. This would appear to be a missed opportunity for all involved. After all, there are only three reigning Celtic champions (super-middleweight Stevie McGuire, light-welter Stuart Phillips and lightweight Gary Buckland). Surely opening up the party would mean more quality title matches, more revenue and more valuable experience and exposure for up and coming boxers?

But whilst the BBBC and the BUI may well work together from time to time – notably on the Magee v Oakey fight this does not mean the BUI would be overly pleased if the BBBC decided to usurp them on their own turf.

Barring Northern Ireland, which falls into both organisations jurisdictions, the two organisations are distinct bodies understandably representing their own interests. That one should step on the others toes would most likely cause some level of disquiet perhaps not on the scale of the FAI and IFAs disagreement over the Darron Gibson affair but maybe enough to ensure that the lawyers are called in.

As it stands one must hold a BBBC licence to fight for the Celtic title but they need not even have a trace of ginger in their blood. Thus, it is not a title defined by being part of a Celtic bloodline if it were no doubt boxers from parts of France, Spain and South America would surely claim eligibility therefore at present it is little more than a clumsily titled championship with no real appeal to fighters or fans.

So, in order to move forward what is necessary is for the BUI and the BBBC to sit down together to hammer out a deal on the joint ownership of the championship. To do this they should look to other sports such as rugby union and more recently soccer where a format for a Celtic Nations championship has been agreed upon.

Should they fail to do this the reasonable aspiration of boxers from the Republic to acquire greater career options would appear to be something of a dead duck.

Movement on this issue is something that is undoubtedly in the interests of boxers from Ireland, Scotland and Wales whether it is in the interests of the administrators is unclear. Although their lack of action on the issue would appear to provide some evidence to the contrary.

A shame – especially when some of the fighters who could be eligible for an expanded title are considered.

Potential match-ups could include bouts between:

Super-middleweight – Brian Magee, Nathan Cleverly

Middleweight – Fights involving Gary Lockett, Matthew Macklin, Andy Lee, Jason McKay

Light-middleweight – Fights involving John Duddy, Jamie Moore, Bradley Pryce, James Moore, Henry Coyle

Welterweight – Fights involving Kevin McIntyre, Kevin Anderson, Neil Sinclair, Stephen Haughian, Tony Doherty, Craig Dickson

Light-welterweight – Fights involving Gavin Rees, Paul McCloskey. Barry Morrison, Martin Watson

Lightweight – Fights involving Graham Earl, Willie LImond, Michael Gomez, Andrew Murray, Oisin Fagan, Lee McAllister, Craig Doherty

Super featherweight – Alex Arthur, Ricky Burns, Eddie Hyland, Kevin OHara, Jamie Arthur

Featherweight – John Simpson, Martin Lindsay, Patrick Hyland

Super-bantamweight – Bernard Dunne, Paul Hyland

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