BEFORE Galal Yafai stood on the podium to collect his Olympic gold medal he took a moment to digest his gargantuan achievement. The Midlander shook his head in both disbelief and pride, the emotion obvious despite the mask that covered much of his face. Unseeded, he was not expected to win gold. He reached the pinnacle of amateur boxing nonetheless, winning the most prestigious of all boxing titles. His journey, at least in the vest, was at last complete.
The youngest of three supreme fighting brothers had secured his place in the tournament back in March 2020, before the European qualifiers were shut down due to the pandemic. Boxing faced real crisis as competition was essentially cancelled and gyms were forced to close.
Yafai was a revelation in Tokyo. So too were his GB teammates, and those exceptional boxers from all over the world who made the tournament so special. Crucially, the sport was a revelation. When it mattered most, under close vigilance and no shortage of inbuilt scepticism after a lifetime of head-scratching contentiousness, boxing behaved brilliantly. Controversies were rare, spirits were high and the quality of boxing on display was nothing less than awe-inspiring. Boxing exhibited what it’s really about and, for three unforgettable weeks, fans forgot about the unyielding criticism that will blight the sport at professional level for as long as it roams free without any overriding governance.
Though one could argue it is thriving at the top by virtue of the money involved, professional boxing has long been splintered and out of control. Not so long ago, amateur boxing was hampered by comparable concerns. As recently as 2018 the International Olympic Committee publicly stated, on more than one occasion, that the sport faced expulsion from the Games. The problem stemmed from the governance of AIBA, the hooky judging, and suggestions of corruption that were impossible to ignore. In Tokyo Olympic boxing was forced to get its house in order otherwise it would no longer be welcome at The Games.
It’s difficult to explain, or indeed understate, the catastrophic effect that would have had on our sport. The funding that has changed elite amateur boxing in this country – and a nod to 2000 gold medallist Audley Harrison for that – would surely have disappeared. In turn, the professional code would have suffered badly in the future. Not only because boxing had been deemed unfit for the greatest of all sporting competitions but because it would simply have been unable to attract the talent it currently does. Therein lies the crux of the quality we have all just witnessed; talent.
We must never forget where that talent comes from. The amateur gyms up and down the country, the selfless coaches who dedicate their lives to helping others. The facility in Sheffield is where that talent often becomes world-beating but go much deeper and you will find countless unsung heroes who open their gyms in all weather and take time to talk to everyone who steps inside, because they recognise that boxing, at its core, brings hope and purpose to lives that might otherwise have none.
Inside those gyms there is little talk of spurious titles or powerbrokers seeking monopolies that will only marginalise boxing further in the long-term. Instead, it is all about the very essence of sport, which is to be the best one can.
In Tokyo, boxing was a sport in every sense of the word. The professional promoters will have watched closely and be ready to invite Yafai and co into the boxing business. One hopes they also took note of the uncomplicated formula required to make boxing great.
For the young boxers, they will make that next step with excitement. But they will never again experience the magic of tournament boxing, the simple sporting system that remains the highlight of so many fighters’ lives. From this point forth, as money takes over, it gets complicated.
FRAZER CLARKE was wonderful in his role as GB captain. His bronze medal was a terrific achievement but the obvious inspiration he generated among his teammates was arguably an even bigger one. Boxing News would like to send its congratulations to Clarke, his fellow medallists – Yafai and Lauren Price (gold), Pat McCormack and Ben Whitaker (silver), Karris Artingshall (bronze) – and the entire team. You all did your country proud and reminded us how magical boxing can be. Well done, too, to the Irish team that saw Kellie Harington (gold) and Aidan Walsh (bronze) get on the podium.