“It is a great honor to be a part of amateur boxing.” As Gethin Jenkins prepares to leave as chief executive of boxing in England, he talks to John Dennen about his time at the helm.
After becoming Boxing England’s CEO in 2017, Gethin Jenkins will step down this month. His time in leadership saw a turbulent period for the sport, with the coronavirus pandemic in particular having a seismic effect on the boxing activity. However, there are still real reasons for optimism among the concerns.
“Societal problems hit amateur boxing first,” Jenkins explained. “People are careful. Will there be another shutdown, what is the impact of a new breed, the rising energy costs and all that comes with it.” The cost of living crisis presents another threat to boxing clubs, as the sport is now recovering from the pandemic.
When we closed our doors in March With the Junior Championships cancelled, we actually thought so little participation at the training level, we wouldn’t be able to take part in any competitive boxing until June and July of the following year. This has a huge impact, especially compared to a lot of other sports, especially outdoor sports,” Gethin said.
Boxing clubs had to adapt their operations in a big way. It was a difficult process. “Just when we thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel, someone moved the tunnel,” Jenkins said. “We closed our doors in March 2020, thinking we would be fine by May, so we postponed and rescheduled the tournament for the back end of the year, which we eventually did but after a year. It kept coming, the delays and the time it took.”
The pandemic has demonstrated the key role of governing bodies when it comes to regulatory support, guidance and advice on how to operate for their members. Jenkins notes that “instead of having about a thousand clubs trying to make sense of government information, the board is taking that information, shortening it, and working out how to apply it to the specifics of that sport.”
Another major step in the recovery was getting the National Championship back up and running. Most of them had to be finished in December, another period of great uncertainty when cases of the novel coronavirus variant were on the rise and there was little clarity about whether the government would impose further restrictions. With “a great deal of effort by all concerned, not only from the governing body and the organizers but from the regions, clubs and officials” this decision was demonstrated.
The international boxing crisis has overshadowed the sport in recent years. Boxing has been excluded from the 2028 Olympics program. The IBA, the renamed governing body, must introduce reforms to satisfy the IOC to try to bring boxing back to the Olympics in time for the Los Angeles Games. One of the main challenges for the new chief executive of Boxing England will be to support the process. “As Boxing England, we have a role to play and we continue to engage with the IBA and our other fellow federations to make sure that boxing plays its part and being a member of the Olympic movement. This will be key,” Jenkins said. Boxing at the international level is fair.”
There are few better displays of the importance of the UK Boxing Olympics than the recent Olympics, where GB’s team took the biggest medal in 100 years. “A reflection of the work and effort they put into GB Boxing during this period, in very challenging times. With the right support, funding and effort put into it what can be achieved across the piece. We see that reflected not only in the boxers’ performance in terms of medals but Also in how they appear and the publicity and awareness about the impact of boxing across the country.” “What great ambassadors for this sport.”
There are plenty of reasons for hope on the local scene. Clubs are coming back from the pandemic and can hold their own shows. England’s talent trajectory has been hit hard by the lockdown but that was previously very successful and could be restored.
“We’ve lost momentum,” Jenkins said. “Rebuild it and we go again. What the pandemic has shown is the thirst and desire there for boxing, competitions, tracks and everything that drives from that.
“We start from a much stronger developer base and hopefully we can continue to build and grow.”
“We deal with diversity, mental health and disability and ensure that gender programs are further developed and strengthened,” he continued.
“We are much bigger and much stronger than we were at the start of the cycle and going into the pandemic, our numbers are back, thanks to the work done by the clubs and the demand for amateur boxing in the communities.
“We have put the strategy in place for the next five years and it builds on what has come before, inspires and changes people’s lives through boxing, and I believe this is not just a title but one that we can live and delivered through the clubs. We got the funding that’s coming, we confirmed the funding. With Sport England and can support a lot of the outreach and community work that is being done. We’ve got the numbers and funding in place and a strong foundation going forward, so someone else can take over and improve it further.”
This work in the communities impressed Jenkins throughout his time in England boxing. “As a sport I think there are very few people who enjoy socializing and influence a sport like boxing,” he said. “Boxing has an impact on some of the country’s most marginalized communities. It’s amazing, every day we see such stories about the difference that boxing makes, the clubs, the coaches, the volunteers, the officials who make them and the impact they make. I still dread it.”
“What the clubs are doing, in outreach and support in those communities, there are very few who can match that. 40 percent of our clubs are in areas of extreme deprivation and the impact and service and the difference they are making day in and day out, a lot of which is unknown and unseen, It’s exceptional. I think the sport is second to none. Then you get the sport itself and the impact it can have both physically and mentally and what it has to offer. It’s an honor to be a part of that.”