Alan Hubbard: Controversial Chisora-Haye showdown proves that in boxing money gives morality the big KO
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
Many will see this as a tasteless curtain-raiser for Britain's biggest sports extravaganza, a snoot-cocking exercise in total contrast to the happenings in and around Stratford that are designed to reflect the true spirit of sport's governance.
Hardly the sort of fistic event to inspire those Olympic warriors who will do battle at the ring at the ExCeL.
That may be so. But as Chisora replied when I asked him if he considered himself a good role medal for Britain's young amateurs: "When was a black boxer a role model for anyone?"
As it happens I do not altogether share the apoplectic outrage of some of my colleagues that Chisora and Haye will lucratively settle a sordid squabble, which began when they brawled in February after Chisora's impressive, but abortive, WBC (World Boxing Council) world title challenge against Vitali Klitschko in Munich three months ago (pictured bottom).
For I long ago abandoned the notion that professional heavyweight boxing was anything but show business with blood. And so I can see where Frank Warren, boxing's ultimate showman, is coming from in orchestrating a blockbuster that, like it or not, the public will want to watch almost as much as the Olympics.
What I find intriguing is that a woman has been asked to step in as referee – not of the fight itself but the increasingly acrimonious verbal punch-up between Warren (pictured below alongside Chisora), who is Chisora's manager, and the BBBofC over the contentious staging of the scrap.
Both parties, locked in a combat as verbally brutal as anything we may see in the ring, have approached Tory MP Charlotte Leslie, who chairs Parliament's All-Party Boxing Group, to argue their respective corners for and against a contest which threatens an anarchic schism in the sport.
However, Leslie, a 33-year-old fight fan who regularly spars with amateur boxers in her Bristol North West constituency, will tell them there can be no Government intervention, a situation that will be endorsed by the Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, who tells me they would only act if the police felt there was a threat to public order.
This will be a blow to the besieged Board, who are so determined to stop thwe sshowdowb between Chisora and Haye (pictured below, fighting Wladimir Klitschko) going ahead that they have also appealed to the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, whose boxing federation has legitimised a promotion that could be worth over £1 million ($1.6 million/€1.3 million) to it in sanctioning fees.
Warren appears to have the Board over a barrel, with half the seats already sold within 48 hours of announcing a fight that will be break all British records for gate receipts.
Things are likely to get even nastier. The Board warns licences will be withdrawn from all concerned with the promotion, but Warren has counter-punched with a letter threatening a lawsuit. "In no circumstances will I walk away from this," he insists.
While one may have sympathy with the Board, there is no doubt it has mishandled this messy affair by imposing an indefinite suspension of Chisora's domestic licence for his Munich misdemeanours, which still allows him to fight under another boxing authority, rather than a ban – a loophole which Warren and his BoxNation TV channel are legitimately exploiting.
For one thing, much as we deplore Chisora's behaviour in Germany, aided and abetted by Haye, I ask: was a sentence of an unlimited suspension from British boxing, a veritable restraint of his only trade, reasonable?
Will the English Football Association dare impose similar draconian punishment on QPR's Joey Barton (pictured below), a character of unmitigated nastiness on and off the field, whose latest malevolence at Manchester City on Sunday (May 13) was every bit as repellent, in my book, as Del Boy's?
However, there are certain issues arising from this unpleasant affair which could seriously affect the future of boxing in Britain.
One is that any idea of the professional and amateur bodies coming together as a single unified governing authority for the sport – which has been mooted and is successfully employed in several other countries – has been effectively ko'd for good.
Neither GB Boxing nor the ABA (Amateur Boxing Association) would now countenance such a move after this shambles.
There is no doubt the Board's authority has been torpedoed, and the damage is much of its own making.
In my view it may require more substantive leadership than it is getting at the moment. Questions must be raised about the stewardship of its chairman, Charles Giles, who has also installed himself as the Board's President, a post relinquished by the esteemed Labour peer Lord Jack Brooks.
Giles, a former Midlands meat trader, is frequently seen ringside at big fights both home and abroad, but is rarely heard.
Indeed, we have not had a peep from him on an issue that is the most serious challenge to the Board's authority in its 83-year history. It has been left to able and popular general secretary Robert Smith, an ex-pro fighter who knows the ropes – his late father, Andy, managed and trained heavyweight Joe Bugner – to apparently take the flak.
Giles' seeming reluctance to put his head above the parapet can be likened to the public anonymity of Geoff Thompson, the former FA chairman who became known in football circles as "The Invisible Man".
Warren, not slow to point out that he has come to the cash-strapped Board's financial rescue in the past, angrily complains that while Giles was present in Munich's Olympiahalle and witnessed the provocative events leading up to the fracas, he was oddly absent from the subsequent disciplinary hearing and thus could not be questioned by Chisora's legal representative.
Expressions of discontent about the Board are now surfacing among some licence holders, and it would not surprise me if, once London 2012 is done and dusted, there are moves to appoint an illustrious new figurehead – in the form of one Baron Coe of Ranmore.
A long-standing boxing aficianado, and, like British Olympic Association chair Lord Moynihan a former steward of the Board, once the Olympic flame flickers and dies Lord Coe may well be kicking his heels until 2015, when he hopes to be elected to the Presidency of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Associations).
I think he would leap at the chance for a spot of administrative fisticuffs in the sport he loves most next to athletics.
Meantime, there is one way the current unseemly hiatus might be resolved. If Chisora goes ahead with a rescheduled appeal on July 2, the Board could lift the suspension and impose a retrospective ban of, say, four months, which would allow him to fight Haye – whose own application to be relicensed also would need approval – 12 days later.
The Board would lose face but sanctioning it is worth a hefty sum: four per cent of the gross receipts from potentially the richest fight in British boxing.
Unlikely perhaps. But, in boxing, money can speak louder than morality.
Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics, 10 Commonwealth Games, several football World Cups and world titles from Atlanta to Zaire.