Sport Comment: Lack of boxing on free-to-air TV leaves stars marginalised

John Inverdale
BRITAIN currently has four world boxing champions. Between now and a few paragraphs’ time, the challenge is to see whether you can name them.

That number rose from three to four at the weekend when, in front of the biggest crowd in history for a bout in Northern Ireland, the latest Belfast Boy Carl Frampton won the IBF world super-bantamweight title, outpointing Spain’s Kiko Martinez.

The event was put on at the Titanic Quarter in the city by the legendary Barry McGuigan – you’ve all heard of him – at considerable cost, and was a triumph for entrepreneurial ingenuity.

It was apparently broadcast live on Chinese and Russian television, which is obviously great if you live in Shanghai or Siberia, but what about Salisbury or Sunderland?

The absence of boxing from free-to-air television in this country is condemning its best practitioners to almost complete anonymity outside the inner ring of the sport.

An excellent new book by Sanjeev Shetty called No Middle Ground recalls the last golden era of the fight game, around 20 years ago, when Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Michael Watson were household names, and their fights regularly attracted 10m viewers.

Few sports produce such drama, incident, characters and controversy, yet through lack of will on the part of the TV companies who have been let down on occasions by those involved in it, and a lack of vision on the part of the promoters, it is a sport that is becoming increasingly marginalised.

Frampton’s fight was broadcast on Box Nation – an excellent but niche service – that almost certainly means hardly any of you reading this article saw it. And the answers to the question I posed at the beginning, by the way, are: Kell Brook, Scott Quigg and Carl Froch.

Froch’s quest for respect is such that, at the height of his talents and after landing the punch of his life three months ago to beat George Groves, he has acquired wider recognition by getting to the grand final next week of the BBC’s Saturday night gymnastics programme Tumble.

He and his people seem to understand the reality of the situation: Strictly Come Boxing may have to be the solution to the sport’s dwindling profile.