What’s in a Name? Irish-Boxing supports amateur boxing name-change

Here at irish-boxing we are not always fans of the goings-on behind the scenes in boxing. This is especially true in relation to so-called ‘amateur boxing’ where dodgy decisions can be a dime a dozen.

However, there is one seemingly innocuous change occurring in ‘amateur boxing’ that we can get behind – changing its name.

It was announced last week that, under orders from the World governing body, that the IABA would be changing their name from the Irish Amateur Boxing Association to the Irish Athletic Boxing Association.

Why Change?
This is part of a global strategy by the AIBA to remove the amateur connotations from the sport. Indeed the word amateur has been removed rather than replaced. The AIBA, with its ‘professional’ wings (AIBA Pro Boxing and the World Series of Boxing), is attempting to change structure and provide a platform that dissuades boxers from ‘going pro’ and entice them to stay with the AIBA for their entire careers. In their eyes/dreams, the AIBA now have the structures in place to govern all levels of boxing from 3x3min AIBA Open Boxing (amateur boxing in old-speak) to 12 round title fights in AIBA Pro Boxing. For the AIBA, they are no longer ‘amateur boxing’, they are just ‘boxing.’

Now, the centralised AIBA Pro Boxing structure is a great idea for boxers from the likes of Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and non-defecting Cubans, but in terms of Irish boxers, we can’t imagine that they will feature heavily, if at all, aside from Olympic cycles where qualification may be offered.

Irish boxers have the advantage of a growing pro scene on this island as well as the proximity of Britain, not to mention their marketability in the United States, should they want to ‘go pro.’

Anyway, back to the name-change. We wholeheartedly agree with the dropping of the word ‘amateur’ for a number of reasons.

It is untrue
It has been a long time since boxing at the Olympic was amateur. Yes, boxers aren’t paid per bout, but in all the top nations elite boxers are government-funded and/or in receipt of sponsorship (albeit not enough!). There is a tendency from some to view the Olympics with rose-tinted goggles, but the reality is our fighters are full-time elite athletes performing at a World class level. The days of butchers, bakers, and candlestick-makers competing at the Olympics are long gone.

It sells our stars short
‘Amateur’ and ‘Professional’ boxing are different codes. Yes there are large similarities, and yes few immediately begin their careers in the pro game, but there is not a singular, guaranteed path for boxers from Olympic champ to pro World Champion. ‘Amateur’ boxing isn’t a precursor or a warm-up for professional boxing, it is a discipline in its own right – but the word amateur suggests something less, a Sunday League version of real boxing.

This issue came to our attention a lot after the RTÉ Sports Personality of the Year awards where Mick Conlan won ahead of bookies’s favourite Conor McGregor. Some pointed out that Conlan is ‘just’ an amateur athlete whereas McGregor is a professional MMA World champion. The well-worn examples of Michael Carruth and Audley Harrison were brought out to illustrate how great amateurs don’t always become great pros. However, these examples actually only serve to emphasise how different the sports are. Orlando Salido beat Vasyl Lomachenko in the pro ranks, but how many pro boxers out there do you think could instantaneously adjust to a 3x3minute style, keep their weight down for a prolonged period, and win five fast-paced bouts in a week? The codes are different, one isn’t necessarily better than the other, and media attention (or lack thereof) is a major reason that ‘amateur’ boxing is viewed as a lower tier of the same sport.

Boxers themselves know the quality, and the difference, of the amateur ranks. Despite all the memes and vines, no boxer would ever criticise Audley Harrison and they all recognise the skill of a man who was just not suited to smaller-gloved, twelve-round fighting. Indeed when his brother won World Championships gold, Jamie Conlan readily acknowledged that a World title in the fractured professional game would not match this achievement in difficulty.

It is misleading
For the last decade or so in Ireland, ‘amateur’ boxing was used to describe the format of competition that a boxer participated in, not their pay-packet. One can see where confusion could emerge. This happened recently when Adam Nolan expressed his very valid reservations at the changes to Olympic qualification which moved some emphasis away from amateur boxing (meaning AOB) in favour of WSB and APB routes. However, these concerns were lost in an outpouring of anger from onlookers who disagreed with the qualification of ‘semi-pro’ WSB fighter Steven Donnelly. Again, Nolan used the term semi-pro to describe style and format, but many got the impression that Donnelly (who until recently was a non-funded fighter) was some sort of undeserving, illegitimate, professional boxer who had denied Nolan a spot at the Olympics.


So what should we call it?
As mentioned above, the AIBA are in favour of just dropping the word amateur. However, as we explained, the sports are different and on this site, and on this island, the codes co-exist. Therefore, we feel differentiation is needed.

Despite the World Championships perhaps being a higher-quality tournament, Olympics are king in Ireland. For that reason, we feel that this should be incorporated into what we call the sport going forward.

So, from here on in, irish-boxing.com are going to make an effort to remove the word ‘amateur’ from our vocabulary.

There is nothing amateur about the efforts, performances, and achievements of these fighters, and they should be described in terms fitting of this. Men and Women, from Schoolboy to Elite, funded or not, these are ‘Olympic boxers’ and they compete in ‘Olympic Boxing.’

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie