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Boxing shapes up for a come-back

In the gym of Croxteth Community School, Liverpool, 50 boys have completed a course on boxing that is seen as a pilot for its return to state schools.

The boarded-up houses and high-rise flats in Croxteth are typical of the kind of deprived area where boxing once flourished. Now a new generation is taking up the sport, despite widespread national criticism.

The Schools Amateur Boxing Association has developed the Kid Gloves scheme, a non-contact version of the sport where outside coaches teach a range of basic skills including stance and guard, throwing and ducking punches. Instead of chins, the blows land on punch pads.

Chris Andrews, assistant secretary of the SABA, said the scheme was regarded as a way of reversing the decline in boxing in state schools which began 20 years ago.

Safety fears and the poor image of professional boxing had accelerated the sport's demise. Concern was exacerbated by incidents such as the death of the professional boxer Bradley Stone.

But the Croxteth example was winning converts on Merseyside and further afield. Mr Andrews said the idea was particularly well received in the North- east.

"The interest shown so far has been enormous," he said. "I believe that boxing will come back into schools. The last five years have seen the bottom of the trough. The arguments now being advanced are getting through to those in education."

A video has been produced to promote boxing in schools, and a bid has been made for a Sports Council grant. Mr Andrews hopes that boxing will benefit from Prime Minister John Major's keen support for competitive sport in schools.

He said: "I think there is a genuine recognition that there are aspects to boxing if it is controlled and properly run that really are very beneficial for children. This scheme takes away the dangers. I hope boxing can be promoted throughout the country in a more co-ordinated way." Such an idea horrifies such groups as the British Medical Association and the British Safety Council, both staunch critics of the idea. The BMA has passed a conference motion calling for boxing to be banned in schools.

Dr Jeffrey Cundy, the joint author of the BMA's last report on boxing, published in 1993, accepted that the scheme in Liverpool was non-contact, but he was still opposed. He said: "We feel that children should still not be introduced to boxing, because they will then be encouraged to take up an activity which is uniquely dangerous when actual contact takes place."

He added: "There is a whole range of sports which will teach the discipline that comes from boxing without the dangers. We see this re-introduction in schools as an unhealthy development".

At the 800-pupil Croxteth comprehensive, Steve Stewart, head of PE, said there was some apprehension about introducing the sport into the curriculum. There was also a feeling that the school was being caught between two different arguments. "Boxing purists feel this is a Mickey Mouse form of the sport, while the antis abhor the idea of introducing any form of boxing into schools. "

He said boxing had helped to improve self-confidence, self-discipline, self-awareness and self-esteem in those taking part. Everybody could get involved and because all were starting from scratch the improvements could be quickly seen.

Certificates were presented to the pupils at the end of the course by Paul Hodgkinson, a local boxer who is a former featherweight world champion. Next year, the course will be repeated and if possible girls will be allowed to take part following requests from them.

"I am sure it is something of a PR exercise for the sport, but if I was sceptical before it started I am not now." said Mr Stewart. "We are not showing boxing as glamorous, nor are we trying to push youngsters to local boxing clubs. The boys can go to local clubs if they want to, but we wouldn't start one in the schools."

Gerry Thompson and Tony Curry, both 12, have enjoyed the boxing sessions and say they will both join a local boxing club. "I thought it was brilliant, " said Gerry, who in this football-mad city accords the pursuit the ultimate accolade: "I would rather be a professional boxer than a footballer. It's more enjoyable. "

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