To anyone who has partaken in boxing you’ll be well aware that it won’t take you long before you’re struggling to catch your breath, it’s without a doubt hard work. Doesn’t matter to what degree, whether it’s a boxing class or full-on sparring in the ring, boxing requires a phenomenal amount of energy.
Scotland has a long-standing history and passion for boxing. It may not be what we’re internationally known for, yet the sport has always been a fixture in many communities up and down the country. However, that’s not to say we didn’t have some boxing stars. We had our very own Ken Buchanan becoming the undisputed lightweight champion of the world in 1971, who thankfully was still alive to see his very own statue unveiled in the centre of Edinburgh. So Scotland is not seen as a basket-case in the professional world of boxing, definitely not.
Talent is never far away in Scotland; we are a gifted nation after all. Boxing is no different, offering remarkable sports people that could really make some positive change.
Niamh Mitchell from Fife encompasses exactly what it is to be a role model for your sport, and at only 16 years old she’s impressive. Niamh has already reached staggering achievements in the sport, becoming the first female boxer to win gold for Scotland at any major boxing competition. Making her the European Champion. In an interview with BBC Scotland she talks us through her big win, speaks of the sacrifices she’s had to make, and the reason she initially got involved when she was bullied in school. She does so with a confidence and maturity that many of us never possessed when we were 16 years old. Although she’s still young she would be a great ambassador for the sport. Especially since boxing has only in recent times fully embraced women. Even more profoundly she became part of history as one of only fifteen contests taking part in the first ever all female boxing show. Facing up to boxers from England and Canada the event at her home club in Bowhill will only go on to encourage and cement women’s boxing as a respected sport.
With the help of Nicola Adams winning gold at the 2012 Olympics, which was the first year that boxing was open to women in the Olympics. Since Adams’ success she has gone on to use her exposure to get more girls and women’s interested and participating in boxing. Up against poor funding, name-calling and a lack of interest a lot has changed from when Nicola had to share ring gear at tournaments with other competitors when first starting out. With the likes of new talent such as Niamh Mitchell women’s boxing will enter a new phase, one that will receive more respect and strive for further equality.
What is clear among the culture of boxing is the community element. Be that in reality or even its portrayal in pop culture the notion of the boxing gym which may have seen better days being run by a local who really cares about the community is still alive and well today.
Boxing, although an amazing way of getting fit, has proven over and over again to be one of the best sports in engaging those from disadvantaged backgrounds and working well within communities that are often neglected.
A study conducted by Boxing England which looked at qualitative data from boxing gyms in both London and Liverpool found there were some rather simple reasons as to why the sport helps to curb anti-social behaviour and help put people on a more positive path. There are countless successful boxers who have accredited boxing for changing their life, Anthony Joshua is among them. Of course there are plenty of other sporting stories where sport has got them on the straight and narrow, yet none seem to have the power of boxing.
In the study there were five themes found through-out their research. The first being that of those who may participate in anti-social behaviour or grow-up in area where being tough is a learnt and sometimes required behaviour boxing provides an alternative which still saves face. Lets face it in many of the hardier areas of Scotland it might be harder to naturally join a gymnastics club than the local boxing club, it’s a gritty alternative. It also provides an opportunity to learn and acquire skills that those partaking in anti-social behaviour often lack such as, self-control, focus and responsibility. It was also found that a big draw of boxing was the ability of a boxing club to act like a family, it creates a sense of community and belonging that may have been missing before. What has become evident over and over again is the sport acts as a tool to control and manage anger. It can’t dissipate the aggression but it can teach those when to channel it and when to control it. Lastly this study found that many of the coaches also come from disadvantaged backgrounds and share many of the same experiences of those they coach. This places them perfectly to become a role model, one who has empathy for those going through something difficult but also knows there is a way out. Quite crucially this helps to build trust.
There are prime examples of community boxing clubs in Scotland achieving just those very things. As one of the most deprived area in Scotland, Easterhouse is no stranger to an increased exposure of anti-social behaviour and neglect from both local and national leaders.
Their wholly run community centre faced closure after the pandemic as it struggled to find sufficient funding. Thankfully in the dying minutes it pulled through and secured the funding. The centre has done wonders in breaking down barriers and creating a great space for children and adults to visit. Although the centre has plenty to offer the Easterhouse Phoenix Boxing Club has been instrumental in becoming a place for the community and helping many get involved with sport.
And there is a want for boxing in a community, rarely does a gym have to close because of no interest. Linkstown boxing club, which has only been on the go for a handful of years found has found the interest from the community in Kirkaldy overwhelming. Upon trying to get accredited with Boxing Scotland which meant hefty fees for courses and training for the owners, the community and supporters stepped up and provided the club with donations to get them their accreditation, which meant more classes for those involved.
The power and influence of boxing is underestimated, sport in general is often overlooked as a tool for helping to solve some of our problems. If it was to be fully utilised it could be an incredibly useful tool for policymakers. The closure of local leisure spaces not only jeopardises our ability to produce the rising stars and subsequent role-models of sport but also steals the chance of children and young adults to feel the positive effects of sport, of which there are many.