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 elsewhere.
Sport England commissioned us to evaluate the impact of boxing clubs on their communities. We spoke to 60 clubs across England and found similar stories, experiences and outlooks.
Value, convenience, credibility
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. But why is this?
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 can operate in urban areas where other sports are absent, at low cost. They don’t need a level surface with white lines, turf or flood lights — just somewhere dry and secure, like a church hall, or an abandoned shop, workshop or industrial space.
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 means boxing clubs are integrated and authentic. For many people in deprived areas this credibility is important — giving kudos to a tough, physical sport.