WHEN Boxing Scotland was deemed not fit for purpose by auditors in 2008, a decision that saw the governing body lose all of its funding, it was a precarious time for the sport.
Boxing had gone from being one of Scotland’s most prominent sports to teetering on the edge of oblivion. When in a situation such as this, more often than not, two options are available: the organisation crumbles or it bounces back stronger.
Boxing Scotland chose the latter and with less than 100 days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, amateur boxing in Scotland is thriving and is expected to be one of Team Scotland’s most successful sports in terms of medals in Australia’s Gold Coast in April.
Fraser Walker, Boxing Scotland’s Chief Operating Officer, who joined the organisation following its troubles almost a decade ago, is understandably thrilled about the position the governing body finds itself in but it has not, he admits, been an easy journey to this point. “In 2009, we really were down to the bare bones,” he said. “We had to get a new board in and there were only a couple of paid staff so we had a lot of work to do. It was like the orgnisation was stuck in the 19th-century.”
The progress in the past eight years has been impressive, with the two gold and two bronze medals won by Scottish boxers at Glasgow 2014 making it the most successful Commonwealth Games for Scottish boxers since 1962.
However, success, inevitably, bring with it increased expectations and with Scotland’s ten-strong boxing team expected to return from Gold Coast in April with at least five medals, Walker is quick to point out what a monumental task that is.
“You look at sports like athletics and swimming and they have numerous medal opportunities whereas we have only 10 athletes but we have been tasked with winning five or more medals – that is a massive ask and I think we have one of the hardest asks of all the sports at the Commonwealth Games,” he said. “But our coaches have said that we have one of the best squads that we’ve had in a long time and we have a number of really impressive boxers who will be in the hunt for a medal in Gold Coast.”
The team which will travel to Gold Coast is historic in that it is the first time Scotland will send a female boxer to the Commonwealth Games.
Vicky Glover is the lone female representative and while there remains work to be done to close the gap between the elite male and female boxers, progress is being made, something that Walker admits is hugely important for the sport in this country, as well as expending the sport’s reach in all areas of society. “There have been significant improvements from our female boxers and that something we have worked hard on and recent years,” he said. “It’s important for the sport to have female representation – we have been reasonably prolific in terms of male boxers but on the women’s side, we haven’t had that and we really want to have female role models for young girls in the sport. You have Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams and I would absolutely love to have somebody like that up here.”
Walker is keen to stress though that the organisation, which was rocked by the sudden death of its chairman Richard Thomas last year, is not merely focused on growing the elite side of the sport, with one of his top priorities ensuring that boxing is accessible to everyone. It is generally accepted that boxing is one of the best sports in Scotland at reaching socially deprived communities and Walker is eager to continue that growth as far and wide as possible. “In the few years since Glasgow 2014, we’ve worked really hard at improving the image of the sport,” he said. We’ve really promoted the positive change that boxing can bring to peoples lives – it’s not necessarily all about becoming a competitor boxer. It’s about breaking down the barriers and making boxing as accessible to everyone as possible.”
To the outside world, one of Boxing Scotland’s greatest successes in recent years is developing Glasgow 2014 gold medallists, Charlie Flynn and Josh Taylor into promising professionals. Taylor, in particular, is touted to become one of the greats of Scottish boxing and regularly cites his amateur experience as the thing that prepared him to excel in the pro ranks as he has over the past couple of years. However, Walker feels that Boxing Scotland does not get the credit it deserves for the work it does with amateur boxers and while the governing body’s goal is not to churn out professionals, Walker believes that the sport would benefit were there some kind of payback system from the pro ranks back into the amateur game. “The boxers get their schooling and experience in the amateur ranks and then turn professional- and there is absolutely no problem with that – but the issue is that there is nothing fed back from the British Boxing Board of Control into the amateur side of the sport. There is no kind of reciprocal agreement and no system whereby something is put back into the amateur side of the sport to nurture more talent. I don’t know exactly how that would work but it would be good to see something sorted out.”
In a few months, we will see if Boxing Scotland can meet their medal target for Gold Coast and surpass the success of Glasgow 2014. But Walker’s real motivation factor is to return boxing in Scotland to its halcyon days, when it was one of Scotland’s most prominent sports. “We want to continue engaging with partners and keep improving the credibility of Boxing Scotland. We want to engage more with black and ethnic minorities, try to deliver some kind of disability program and engage more with the travelling community. We really just want to work with more organisations for the good of boxing. We want to develop a strategic plan that can see boxing become a national sport again in the same breath as rugby, football, golf and so forth. In past years, it has been one of the most popular sports but that has waned a little bit so we want to put it out there that boxing is a sport that can do so much good. We want to continue developing across the country and help the clubs continue to grow.”