COVID’S IMPACT ON AMATEUR BOXING AND THE GOLDEN GLOVES
Portland, Maine - March 1, 2021 - Durward Ferland, a volunteer at the Portland Boxing Club, hosts an Interview with Bobby Russo, National President – Golden Gloves of America, Executive Director – New England Golden Gloves, President and Head Coach – Portland Boxing Club. They discuss COVID’s impact on the sport of boxing and the upcoming tournaments.
DF: To get started, let’s talk about what has not changed in boxing.
BR: As for the sport of boxing, nothing has changed. It remains the toughest sport that there is and requires real dedication. Kids are learning discipline and commitment. If you can succeed in boxing, you can succeed in just about anything. It is a tough, tough sport.
The best coaches are real mentors and they lead these kids in the right direction. Coaches have a real impact on the at-risk kids because they just don’t have these mentors elsewhere in their lives.
Amateur boxing is pure sport, everyone is a volunteer. That’s one of the beauties of it, it is not driven by money. Amateur boxing is not about people hitting one another. It is about the service that it does for the youth, it puts them on a good path in life and teaches them a healthy lifestyle.
DF: Are local boxing gyms able to remain financially viable through the COVID pandemic?
BR: It’s tough right now, as it is with most sports. Coaches who run local boxing gyms are struggling to survive without being able to host club shows and fundraisers to help finance their gyms. While I understand the need to curtail gatherings for safety reasons during a pandemic the fact is that Boxing gym memberships are down 50% across the country, and rightfully so because amateur boxers are still not able to compete in many states. Gyms are hurting and members aren’t going to return in large volumes until shows get going again.
Some larger gyms have been able to turn to other revenue streams, such as personal training, on-line training and selling merchandise; however, many gyms are run by coaches who have a full-time job in addition to running the gym and they just do not have the time to do these other things. Running their gym was a tough task before COVID, I don’t think the general public realizes the commitment from these coaches who are volunteering their time just for the love of the sport.
There are a lot of gyms that were forced to close for good. I have been talking with many of the Golden Gloves franchisees across the country and I have been hearing that a lot of gyms in their regions are closed. Here, in New England, we are expecting less shows in the regional championships leading up to the New England Golden Gloves because there are so many gyms that just aren’t there any longer, or don’t have many boxers to send.
DF: What is happening to the youth and young adults who rely the many benefits that they get out of boxing?
BR: The motivation for many of us in amateur boxing is to get the at-risk kids into a gym and off the streets to keep them out of trouble. When the gyms are forced to close, these at-risk kids have to find something else to do, and typically those are not good things. A major benefit that amateur boxing serves is to provide them with structure and something to do. And, it teaches them about healthy lifestyles.
Even for those gyms that are still open, the coaches are having a hard time getting the kids to show up because there are no boxing events happening. The kids don’t want to train without competitions to look forward to. USA Boxing and the Local Boxing Committees (LBCs) have to be helpful to the people who want to do events because these shows are the main lifeblood of what we do. If you don’t have events, you don’t have incentive – and that is a major problem.
DF: Other sporting competitions are reopening, including professional boxing shows. Why aren’t we seeing amateur shows?
BR: Well, that is a great question. USA Boxing has developed a 20 page protocol on conducting shows safely. If these states that don’t want to allow boxing events would read the protocol, they would realize the amount of effort that has gone into making this safe and start allowing shows following that protocol.
The New England Golden Gloves includes 6 states and USA Boxing New England includes 5 states. (Connecticut is an independent LBC.) Within these 5 or 6 states, 3 of them are Northern New England which is low risk and seeing declining COVID numbers. We should be working towards hosting events, especially in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. This needs to be done before we lose more gyms and more kids. Sitting idle is a real blow to our sport.
DF: Without having these shows now, what will be the impact on the New England Golden Gloves and the National Golden Gloves?
BR: The New England Golden Gloves and National Golden Gloves are qualifying tournaments – you need to qualify to be able to box in them. USA Boxing is holding a national tournament in March. Even though this is a walk-on tournament (anyone can register to box), this will be a good barometer for what other tournaments will look like.
There will be a number of boxers at the National Tournament who may not be in top form. For many of them, they will not have competed in a year. The boxers in those states that have allowed boxing shows have a huge advantage going into this tournament because they have had opportunities to box recently.
Many of the kids that were favorites to win national championships last year have turned professional to have opportunities to advance their boxing career. With this turnover in the sport and the ring rust that many of the boxers will have, this year’s tournaments will be anyone’s guess.
DF: This is the question that I’m sure everyone has been asking you – will the New England Golden Gloves and the National Golden Gloves take place this year?
BR: Right now, we are working to address how many franchises need to participate to constitute a national tournament. If franchises cannot hold their regional tournaments, they may not have the money to send teams to the national tournament. It costs upward of $20,000 to send a team to the National Golden Gloves. The franchises can have up to 20 boxers, 2 coaches and 2 officials and without the ticket sales and sponsors from their regional tournaments, some franchises will not have the funding to participate in the National Golden Gloves. These franchises are mostly run by volunteers and they aren’t rich organizations. In good years, it can be a struggle for the franchises to raise enough money to send their team to the National Tournament.
The National Golden Gloves Executive Committee, the host franchise and the host city are all committed to holding the National Tournament this year, but we still do not know how many franchises will be able to afford to send a team. On top of this, the varying quarantine rules in each state are presenting a unique challenge to the franchises hoping to travel.
We are dealing with this in New England as well. The New England Golden Gloves are typically held in Lowell, MA. Massachusetts remains more of a hot-spot than the Northern New England states and travel to Massachusetts requires boxers to quarantine upon return to their home state, so we need to see how practical it will be to hold the tournament in Massachusetts. One option that we are currently looking into is hosting part of the tournament at smaller venues in New Hampshire. We are also discussing ways to set up the Lowell Memorial Auditorium (the current host) with a limited capacity to allow for social distancing.
At this time, I can’t make a final decision for the New England Golden Gloves because of the various restrictions that the states have in place. I am an optimist and I do believe that the tournament will take place in April and May. By that time, a lot is going to change. As soon as the current Covid infection rates drop substantially and the restrictions loosen up enough to allow us to hold a tournament, we will hold the tournament. This is our 75th year and such a great tradition. I really want it to happen.
DF: What long-term changes to boxing do you see coming out of the pandemic?
BR: When this is over, we are going to need to make up some ground. There will be a void that needs to be filled, such as all those gyms that went out of business. I hope that the next group of gym owners are good promoters of the sport. They will need to get involved and also do more events. The key to building amateur boxing back up is doing more boxing events to showcase these kids and give them incentive to stay in the gym.
The lack of boxing events today is driving boxers out of the amateurs to turn professional because pros are able to compete now. Younger people are impatient, if they have some experience under their belt and want to stay busy they will turn pro.
DF: In closing, what advice would you give to today’s amateur boxers?
BR: You need to have a good attitude, you need to be coachable. You have to have a lot of self-discipline. Your coach should not have to chase you to show up at the gym. Your coach isn’t going to wake you up to go running. You have to be motivated to do that yourself.
DF: Looking forward, what is the future of amateur boxing and the Olympics?
BR: Amateur boxing will survive COVID. We will hang in there. We will remain in the Olympics and the sport will be fine in the long run.