By Tom Degun

January 6 – An escalating row involving a ban on bearded boxers has nothing do with race or religion, a leading official from the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE) has told insidethegames.

The controversy started a year ago at the Bolton Lads and Girls Club when 25-year-old Muslim boxer Mohammed Patel (pictured) was banned from the ring for having a beard and claimed that the ABAE discriminated against him on religious grounds.

The boxer was particularly angered by the ban because according to the governing body’s rules, Sikhs are allowed to box if they tie back extraneous hair with a net.

Barry Jones, the ABAE's National Child Protection and Equity Manager, is tyring to prevent the incident developing into a major row in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympics after religious organisations threatened to take the national governing to court over the ban.

He told insidethegames: "As a result of an approach by a Sikh five years ago, a ruling was made to tie back hair with a net.

"However, the wisdom of that very decision has now come into question due to the practicality of it.

"The complaint from Mohammed Patel and the Bolton Council of Mosques (BCOM)  is the first we have had in five years regarding the wearing of a beard in boxing.

"The rules state that: 'A boxer shall be clean-shaved before the weigh-in.'

"Beards and moustaches are not allowed and that is entirely a health and safety issue that I stress has absolutely nothing to do with race or religion.

"In the past, Muslim boxers such as Amir Khan (pictured) have been happy to abide by such rulings.

"We have consulted with the International Boxing Association (AIBA) regarding the situation and they have maintained that boxer’s must be clean-shaved before fight.

"This will be fully enforced at the London 2012 Olympic Games as well as all other official amateur tournaments.

"We will always follow the instruction of AIBA and the ABAE will always continue to consult with them regarding all decisions of this nature.

"I reiterate that is has absolutely nothing to do with race and religion and I deeply regret that the situation has unfolded in such a way."

Reports today suggest that a Sikh group has also weighed in on the ruling and is ready to bring legal proceedings against the ABAE.

Dr Indarjit Singh, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations said: "It is unbelievably insensitive and grossly insulting.

"It is also offensive to our Muslim brothers who wear beards for religious reasons.

"We request that the ABAE rescind their new ruling.

"Failure to do so will result in legal action which, as well as being costly, will do untold damage to the public image of the ABAE and boxing in general."

The BCOM is now working closely with the different faith groups across the country concerning the ruling and Bolton MPs are have also got involved.

Brian Iddon, the MP for Bolton South East, is to ask the Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe to look into the matter while David Crausby, the MP for Bolton North East, is reported to have written to the ABAE for an explanation of their ruling.

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