Just as one Muslim doesn’t represent Islam, Tyson Fury doesn’t represent boxing. But that hasn’t stopped liberal commentators and the morally-outraged Twitterati, who have used the BBC Sports Personality furore to attack the sport.
Julie Bindel (who claims boxing is ‘not a sport but a sadistic spectacle performed by men’) wrote in the Guardian: ‘If your job is to knock somebody unconscious, it’s unlikely that they have been raised to think that solving an argument with their fists is wrong. The ethos behind this can also breed dangerous attitudes towards women.’ Does this mean a tennis player will try to solve an argument with a racket? Or a golfer with a club? Boxing is not an argument, it is a sport, and it can be a profession. When I boxed as an amateur, it was clear that boxing’s sportsmanship almost always trumps race, gender, religion or anything else.
Bindel then went on to use Mike Tyson’s rape case as an example against boxing. So what about Nicola Adams’ gold medal at the 2012 Olympics? Will Adams — who is openly gay — likely resort to violent criminal actions in the future?
Another Guardian writer, Alice Arnold, after admitting she’s not very interested in boxing, wrote: ‘The sadness is that Fury chooses to express his views to an audience that may not contain the most enlightened people and those views get reinforced and accepted.’
What Arnold seems to suggest here is that boxers and boxing fans likely wouldn’t be seen sipping a flat white at some pop-up roast bean fair in Islington (I’m sure they exist). Poor uneducated working class, is what she seems to mean. Either that, or gypsies.
This does a real disservice to the diverse and generally accepting community of boxers and boxing fans. When long-serving boxing promoter Frank Maloney came out last year as gender-reassigned Kellie, it provoked more reaction from the liberal press than it did from the boxing community (who basically said ‘who cares, move on’). Exactly the same happened when Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz came out as gay in 2013.
Ice-skating wasn’t held accountable after the 1994 conspiracy to break Nancy Kerrigan’s legs; just as running wasn’t held accountable when Oscar Pistorius fired bullets into Reeva Steenkamp’s bathroom.
Jeremy Corbyn was closer to the truth when he told the Huffington Post: ‘I’m not a great boxer, but I have visited the local boxing club and had a chat with them and they do good stuff with bringing a degree of order into kids’ lives.’
It’s good to see Corbyn — who is not known for his love of violence — recognise the benefits that boxing can bring to communities. There are roughly 11,000 registered amateur boxers in the UK, and I’ve witnessed the sport giving opportunity, focus and purpose to people from almost all social backgrounds: gypsies, privately educated kids, Catholics, Muslims, migrant men, old women, young girls — some of whom have gone on to represent England in the sport.
No finer example of boxing’s ethos can be found than in Jerusalem, at a club where Arabs and Jews train together in a converted bomb shelter, and where politics, race and religion are yet again brushed aside. The boxing community will deal with bigoted columnists — or boxers — the way it deals with all others: by simply tuning them out.