Gloves off in battle over status of boxing

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Student boxers have already gone several rounds in their fight to gain academic recognition for their sport. Now a four-year battle with examining body OCR, which has stood in their way, is coming to a head.

They have in their corner a former sports minister, Kate Hoey. She is angry that examining bodies "can discriminate against a lawful activity recognised by the Sports Council".

Her frustration is echoed by Ian Prescott, principal of East Durham and Houghall community college - the first in England recognised as a centre of excellence for amateur boxing. He threatens to go to the European court if the issue is not resolved and has passed on the file to Tony Blair, his constituency MP.

"We've 25 first-year boxers here and it's essential they have the right to be assessed within the practical component of AAS-level PE exams," said Mr Prescott, a former professional footballer with Bolton Wanderers and Rochdale.

"Amateur boxing is very well regulated. Many of our boxers want to continue within higher education while reading sports coaching, sports science and sports development to first degree level. But if they can't be assessed, their chances of gaining a university place - and subsequent choice of employment and lifetime earning potential - will be seriously reduced."

In 2000, when the college began campaigning for the recognition of boxing, OCR said that as a "fighting activity" it was "considered not appropriate at A-level".

Since then the picture has grown confused. Mr Prescott appealed and thought he had been successful. He received a letter in October 2001 from Tony Orgee, secretary of the OCR appeals committee, who said the body "recognised the force of the campaigners' arguments" and had decided to reconsider.

But three months later the boxing lobby was floored again. A further letter from Mr Orgee declared that the Joint Council for General Qualifications (JCGQ) felt boxing was unsuitable for ASA and GCSE. "This," he said, "concludes OCR's consideration of the appeal."

The grounds were, he said, that "injury, including head injury, was intentional in the sport, and therefore it was inappropriate as a subject for public examination".

Yet this did not end the muddle. Soon afterwards, JCGQ convenor John Milner wrote to Mr Prescott stating that "it would be to misrepresent the position to say JCGQ had established a policy that no awarding body should offer boxing as an option".

Campaigners have struggled to clarify the position ever since. One is Tina Mytton from Redditch, Worcestershire, whose son Adam hopes to do boxing as part of his PE A-level. "I feel he is being discriminated against," she said. "I'll keep up the pressure - I'm prepared to go to court over this.

His dedication has steered him clear of drink and drugs.

"Taking boxing as an assessed activity would give him the chance to fulfil his academic potential, which won't be the case if he has to choose a sport in which he has little interest."

Mr Prescott says that OCR's failure to give the matter serious reconsideration is "beyond any doubt unreasonable". Ms Hoey is equally angry. "The all-party boxing group of the House of Commons is to meet OCR," she said. "Whatever the issue - and people have a right to different views - the handling has been outrageous."

The latest twist is a letter from Greg Watson, OCR acting chief executive, to Mr Prescott saying that he "shares concerns about OCR's handling of the case". "I have asked a senior member of staff to investigate," he said.

"Finding out reasons for the delays will form part of OCR's internal investigation."

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