Boxing clubs have been thrown a £200,000 lifeline following a City Hall vote to fund the Belfast Amateur Boxing Strategy.
The money is part of an ongoing strategy to support the sport which was launched by Belfast City Council in 2012.
However, even though it was set up as a ten year programme there have been fears among boxing clubs that the money would dry up.
But at a meeting today, the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee agreed that the programme is funded for one more year.
Sinn Fein councillor Matt Garrett said the cash is good news for boxing in the city.
However, he added: “Obviously, it’s great news that clubs will benefit from this funding. This is a proven strategy that is benefiting thousands of young boxers across the city. However we had been pushing for the funding to set in place over a three year period to allow those involved to really plan for the future.
“Every report and review that’s been done in the Council about this strategy since it started has been positive. There is fantastic work going on and it deserves to be supported. I would say that the boxing fraternity needs to be asking the parties who voted against funding for three years why that is, they need to be lobbying those parties.”
Today’s decision to fund the strategy came after a presentation was made to the full Council on Wednesday night in which Paddy Barnes snr told councillors the programme has a “proven record” of benefiting the sport and producing world class boxers.
Outlining how the funding has helped local boxing, Mr Barnes referred to fighters being sent to the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast , adding “I’ve no doubt that the boxers we’re sending will be bringing back medals”.
However, the Council meeting was not without controversy as a presentation by Terry McCorran of the Northern Ireland Boxing Association heard him say they are “being starved out of existence” due to a lack of funding.
The NIBA is not recognised by Sport NI while the IABA (Irish Athletic Boxing Association) is. However this has lead to concerns among some boxers who say that to fight for Northern Ireland is difficult if they train under the IABA.
Mr McCorran told Wednesday night’s meeting that to fight for Northern Ireland “a boxer from here would have to join a club in England, Scotland or Wales”.
As the situation stands a fighter can only fight for NI in the Commonwealth Games, however the NIBA say it is very difficult to fight in the Olympics or in lower level ‘home nations’ bouts.
Mr McCorran, who is Secretary of the NIBA, said that “if you want to fight for Ireland those rights have to be enshrined and guaranteed”, but pleaded to councillors “but not at the cost of young boys and girls whose dream it is, not to run out on Windsor Park, but go out and box for Northern Ireland. That is their dream and their dream is being denied”.
He called on Sport NI to officially ‘recognise’ the NIBA in the same way it does the IFA and FAI.
Asked about funding for the NIBA, Cllr Garrett today said that Sport NI only recognises the IABA meaning the Council can fund IABA backed schemes thanks to “assurances and due diligence” having been carried out. He added that the Council will “absolutely look at them [NIBA] favourably” if they work with Sport NI and get recognition.
Alliance Party Group Leader Michael Long said they were “happy to back funding for boxing clubs for the next 12 months, building on the great work that has been undertaken in the first few years of the strategy”.
He added: “As the 10 year plan is at the midway point we also have asked that an emphasis is put on making boxing more self-sustaining in future years.
“We also backed plans for Council officers to meeting with representatives of the NIBA (Northern Ireland Boxing Association) to assess ways the Council can assist them.
“With Belfast producing some world-class boxers, I hope this move will help deliver the next generation of Belfast’s boxing stars.”
The DUP welcomed the funding, but said more needs to be done regarding the NIBA.
The DUP Group Leader on Belfast City Council, Councillor Lee Reynolds, said: “DUP Councillors have repeated highlighted that the Council’s Boxing Strategy was failing to support NIBA-affiliated clubs across the city – north, south, east and west.
“These clubs wish to provide boxers with the option of representing Northern Ireland at every level of youth and adult competition, including Home Nation, European and World Championships as well as Team GB and NI at the Olympics. However, because they are not affiliated to the Irish Athletic Boxing Association they are not being recognised by Sport Northern Ireland nor, until now, by Belfast City Council.
“It was agreed that the Council’s existing Boxing Strategy would be funded for one year, that an equality impact assessment will be carried out and a sustainability/funding exit strategy produced. Furthermore, there will be a new sports development strategy for all sports in the city prepared. It was agreed that NIBA clubs could be included in both or one of these strategies.
“We will work to ensure that this is a breakthrough moment for the NIBA. We are delighted that there is a clear path towards support for these boxing clubs which do so much, particularly in disadvantaged areas, and want to help young people achieve their dream of representing Northern Ireland on the domestic and international stages. It also opens the door to providing a broader programme of support to the full range of sports in the city and not just one.”