Many sports struggle to engage with BAME groups, those from low-income backgrounds and young people who may be involved in crime or gang activity.
Boxing is the exception — reaching people that other sports don’t. Across England, boxing clubs are doing exceptional work in marginalised neighbourhoods. This is well-known in boxing circles, but not well publicised elsewhere.
Sport England commissioned us to evaluate the impact of boxing clubs on their communities. We spoke to 60 clubs across England and found stories, experiences and outlooks that were very similar.
Value, convenience, credibility
Think of a football, rugby or cricket club, and you might imagine suburban fields and open space, with pavilions, stands and car parks. People often drive or take public transport to attend and membership fees are relatively high.
Boxing clubs are different. They don’t need a level surface with white lines, turf or flood lights. All they need is somewhere dry and secure, like a church hall, or an abandoned shop, workshop or industrial space. They can operate in urban areas where other sports are absent, at low cost.
This is perhaps part of the reason why 75% of affiliated English boxing clubs are in the most deprived parts of the country. One in four are in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods.
One coach told us:
“In our community, which is in the bottom 10% of deprivation, we have got 3 boxing clubs and no football at all. No football, in one of the most deprived areas of the country, yet there are three boxing set ups. So, where boxing is sticking around as a grassroots sport, football is becoming more of a corporate entity”
Using existing community spaces also means boxing clubs are integrated and authentic. For many people in deprived areas this credibility is important, giving kudos to a tough, physical sport.