At this time of year, Repton Boxing Club in east London should be packed with spectators for the peak of the amateur boxing season. Instead, like many other grass-roots hubs across the country, the club remains eerily silent.
Sedem Ama, 30, a two-time national and London champion, fears for the future of the club that kickstarted her unexpected career in the ring.
“I do worry that returning from this second lockdown will be like the straw that broke the camel’s back,” says Ama, who took up boxing two years ago after struggling with her mental health. “The boxing season was supposed to start in September but we haven’t competed. I have heard of a few clubs that have had to close down because they don’t have the funds to keep running.”
Boxing gyms have traditionally been male-dominated environments filled with boisterous personalities and competition being the main focus. While some elements of that still remain, the sport has also engaged a new audience through fitness and wellbeing. From boxercise classes to self-defence, the appetite for the sport has grown massively.
Sport England’s Active Lives survey, covering the period from November 2018 to November 2019, shows that 420,400 women were regularly involved in the sport, including boxing-related fitness classes. This is an 8.9 per cent increase from the previous year.
Stacey Copeland, the first British woman to win the Commonwealth title, worries that the momentum the sport has built over the years could be lost. “Boxing is one of the last true working-class sports,” says Copeland. “A lot of other sports have transitioned to centres of excellence and regional talent pathways which cost a lot of money for parents. Yet in many ways, boxing remains the same as when I was growing up, you simply turn up and take part.
“The gyms are in working-class areas, they exist in places of hardship and you don’t have to have a lot of money to get involved. It’s accessible to everybody and my concern is that as boxing is a sport that can positively engage all people – we risk it being lost as we come out of lockdown.”
Grass-roots sport was not ring-fenced in the Government’s recently announced £300 million winter survival package, which is intended to cover loss of income from ticket sales across a handful of sports. Therefore amateur boxing is not among them, despite the fact that many gyms are on their knees.
“It seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel,” says Ama. “A lot of the ways that clubs make a living is through memberships, competitions, and club shows. Normally, we would have had a show by now but we haven’t had anything.”