Alan Hubbard ©insidethegames

When Britain's athletics team returned a medal haul of just half a dozen from last month's World Championships in London, there was a perceptible sigh of relief from funding body UK Sport. 

The modest target of six, albeit with Sir Mo Farah as the sole individual winner, had been reached. Just.

But within some factions of the sport, and among the media and public, there lingers a huge question mark.

Should not Team GB have done rather better in view of past achievements, notably in the Rio and London Olympics, and after pocketing funding of more than £27 million ($35 million/€30 million)? The debate continues.

So what then, do we make of the most recent World Championships, those in the sport of boxing, conducted in Hamburg under the auspices of the International Boxing Association (AIBA)? British boxers, this time competing under the flags of their home nations, collected just one medal, a bronze from England's bantamweight Peter McGrail.

True, it was a similar figure to that achieved in the previous World Championships in Doha two years ago, and subsequently Team GB went on to have a decent Olympics in Rio with a gold, silver and bronze.

Indeed, at the past three Olympics, Beijing, London and Rio, there has been a golden flourish for British boxers.

And at the last European Championships six of the seven British boxers selected reached the finals, with the only gold medal coming via the fists of the same McGrail. 

The 21-year-old Liverpudlian is now the brightest star in a re-vamped British squad and looks a possible medal prospect for Tokyo.

If he is still around in 2020. For the pro-game is on a high in Britain where, with more shows scheduled than at any point for several decades, the hunt is on for talent to occupy the corners.

The personable McGrail is already being touted. There seems little doubt that either before or after Tokyo he will succumb to lucrative overtures to join so many of his Team GB podium predecessors.

Despite receiving UK Sport funding for the Tokyo 2020 cycle of £14.6 million ($19 million/€16 million), Team GB continues to lose boxers to the professionals hand over fist, so to speak.

Mo Farah was the only British individual gold medallist at the IAAF World Championships in August despite millions spent in funding ©Getty Images
Mo Farah was the only British individual gold medallist at the IAAF World Championships in August despite millions spent in funding ©Getty Images

For instance, of Britain's 12-strong team from Rio - ten men and two women - only three remain within what used to be called the amateur discipline.

These are light-flyweight Galal Yafai, flyweight Muhammad Ali and welterweight Pat McCormack.

And looking back on London 2012, all ten team members - seven men and three women - are now boxing professionally including gold medallists Anthony Joshua, Luke Campbell and Nicola Adams.

So what does this tell us? Well, for one thing, AIBA's decision to "professionalise" boxing for one-time "amateurs" is not working as a deterrent to joining the recognised pro-game where the lure of the real mega-bucks remains too strong.

In Britain, a Team GB fighter can earn up to £28,000 ($36,000/€30,000) tax-free a year, in basic funding from UK Sport. They can have food, physio, travel and the costs of living four days a week in camp fully covered.

It sounds attractive - for a while. But should we be asking whether this is simply a liberally assisted passage until they are ready to fly the comforts of the Sheffield nest into the cheque-waving arms of the pro promoters?

Interestingly the nine from Rio who have turned pro have done so under an array of promoters. Joe Cordina, Anthony Fowler, Josh Kelly, Joshua Buatsi, Qais Ashfaq and Lawrence Okolie have joined Joshua and Campbell in Eddie Hearn's mushrooming Matchroom stable, which seems to exert considerable influence at Team GB's state-of-the-art Sheffield HQ.

Double golden girl Adams is a prized coup for Frank Warren while Savannah Marshall made her pro debut for Floyd Mayweather on the under-card of his self-promoted "fight" with Conor McGregor in Las Vegas. Joshua's successor at super-heavyweight, Joe Joyce, has finally teamed up with David Haye's new promotional outfit and makes his pro debut next month.

The Olympics seem to have become more of a springboard towards professionalism for British boxers than at any time in the last half century. 

Of course competitors in other sports can earn fortunes on the back of their Olympic exploits while remaining eligible for future Games.

Technically, so can boxers since AIBA made it possible for fully-fledged pros to compete in the Olympics under certain criteria. But so far no Brit has elected to do so, and personally I doubt if many will. Certainly none currently pursuing a fresh career in the prize ring.

Can you imagine Joshua, Campbell and co. competing in Tokyo for nowt, risking riches and reputation? Don't be daft.

As it happens, Britain's head coach and performance director Robert McCracken is sanguine about his relatively untried squad, denuded of its stars of 2012 and 2016, doing well in Tokyo. This is despite the apparent lack of success in Hamburg.

"I was so pleased with many of the performances from what is still a very young and inexperienced squad," he said. "It was vital experience for them in a tournament that arguably is tougher than the Olympics.

Peter McGrail was the only British medallist at the AIBA World Championships in Hamburg ©Getty Images
Peter McGrail was the only British medallist at the AIBA World Championships in Hamburg ©Getty Images

"These World Championships were about trying to get these boxers a profile, gain some valuable experience and nick a medal, which we did. Hopefully in three years time we should be in a really good position."

If Hamburg was a pointer for Tokyo it told us that the Cubans, topping the table with seven medals, five of them gold, are back on the march again and still the fighting force to be reckoned with.

We also know that the ever-emerging threat comes not from the United States or Russia, who managed only four medals between them, but from the former Soviet-bloc satellites of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, who filled the four places behind Cuba.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Championships was the feat of one participant who did not even pull on a pair of gloves.

AIBA's President Dr C K Wu went to Hamburg very much on the back foot in the face of aggressive opposition from those determined to unseat him.

But the redoubtable lord of the AIBA ring is still standing.