Winning 5 medals at the 2012 olympics and with a number of ‘big name’ champions performing internationally, Britain is ‘punching above its weight’ when it comes to boxing (sorry), most likely due to a resilient network of local boxing gyms and a strong framework for pushing talented players to the top. There is also a traditionally strong link with deprivation as boxing is an iconic working class sport. A study of 27 amateur clubs in Belfast by the local authority found that 90% of clubs were within the 20% most deprived wards in Northern Ireland.
Boxing gyms are often seen as acting as a support mechanism in deprived areas, providing structure and a safe friendly community as well as teaching self-control. The Amateur Boxing Association of England argues in its guidance to clubs seeking funding that boxing clubs can impact on crime rates, educational attainment and attendance, promote healthy lifestyles and tackle social disadvantage. It notes that the location of many clubs in areas of high deprivation may help make them a priority for funders and includes a mapping tool that clubs can use to showcase area statistics. Indeed the ABA itself is using the IMD to target part of a £5.8 million grant from Sport England, delivering 10 ‘key community projects’ in areas showing boxing growth and with high deprivation.
While researching this I stumbled across a body of literature concerned with boxing’s link to deprivation. Much of this is covered in a dissertation entitled “Endless Punchers: Body, Narrative, and Performance in the World of Japanese Boxing”, where the author argues that “deprivation itself becomes the medium for success” in boxing due to its celebration of the underdog and isolation from the mainstream. He makes the interesting point that:
“The discourse of relative deprivation can easily flip flop once it is applied to the subject of boxing because a sense of deprivation – of having been marginalized, victimized or oppressed – is held as essential to generation of “hunger” that typifies success in the sport.”
Loren Goodman, ‘Endless Punchers: Body, Narrative, and Performance in the World of Japanese Boxing’, Google Books preview.
It would be interesting to find out how many UK gold boxing medals have come from areas of high deprivation.