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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Robert Smith on the “really tough” decision to postpone Shields v. Marshall

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The death of Queen Elizabeth II resulted in all British boxing cards being cancelled. Matt Christie talks to Robert Smith to find out why

THERE was a mixed reaction when all British boxing cards were cancelled last weekend as a consequence of the Queen’s death. Plenty understood the mark of respect, and that is purely what it was, while others raged that it was the wrong decision.

Upward of 100 boxers ended up without pay as a consequence of seven shows being called off. That is a sobering bottom line. It’s important to show empathy to all affected, including the teams of each. For the likes of Claressa Shields, Savannah Marshall, Mikaela Mayer and Alicia Baumgardner, their purses would have equated to a huge chunk of what, contextually, is their annual salary. That’s before we consider the strains of making weight, the long training camps they thought were over and the psychological stress of not fighting when they had conditioned themselves to do so. That the card has been tentatively rescheduled for October 15 is no guarantee that it goes ahead, nor that the fighters involved will be in a position to partake on the new date.

It’s unlikely that the decision of the British Boxing Board of Control (BBB of C), which was fully supported by Sky Sports and the promoters, would have garnered so much negativity if the huge O2 bill, set to showcase women’s boxing from top to bottom, wasn’t at the forefront of attention. One must also consider the fighters on the smaller shows, however. Whatever they were expecting to earn, they did not. It doesn’t need spelling out here but the footballers who did not make it onto the pitch, for the same reason, would regardless have been paid what their contract states. There is no fallback for boxers if events are cancelled under such abnormal circumstances.

Some cried foul play when Friday’s weigh-in was pushed back. It was stated that if the boxers weighed in, and didn’t fight, they would be contractually obliged to their pay but would earn nothing if they didn’t get as far as the scales.

“That is not true,” Robert Smith of the BBB of C told Boxing News. “If the boxers had weighed-in and the fights were cancelled afterwards, they would not have been paid under those circumstances. The reason the weigh-ins were pushed back is very simple. I had to go to our Cardiff offices on Friday morning to deal with the cancellation of shows due to take place that evening, so I was running late to get to London. I asked for the weigh-in to be pushed back by an hour.”

Smith arrived at the O2 at 1.30pm, and after consultations with the promoters, Sky Sports and the Board Chairman, Charlie Giles, the decision was quickly made to postpone the show, purely as a mark of respect. It was not, as has been suggested, anything to do with shortage of security, police or medical staff.

“It was really tough,” Smith admitted. “We had to make a decision and we knew it would split opinion and I respect and understand both sides of the argument. This was a celebration of women’s boxing. For many, it didn’t feel right to stage that celebration while so many of the public were clearly in mourning.

“We didn’t make the decision lightly, we knew if we cancelled one show we had to cancel them all. I have great sympathy for the boxers, their teams and the fans who spent a lot of money to attend.

“I heard someone say that we [The Board] wouldn’t cancel because it would mean we would lose money. We’ve all lost lots of money. But there was far more than money to consider when making our decision.”

It was reported that this was an unprecedented situation. In many ways it was, particularly in the modern age with round the clock news coverage and opinions on social media in overdrive. However, there are examples of boxing bills being cancelled for similar reasons in the distant past, but never anything as drastic as this.

King Edward VII died on Friday May 6, 1910, before the formation of the BBB of C. The following day, three shows due to take place in London were cancelled, so too shows elsewhere in the country. King George V died on Monday January 20, 1936. Though a smattering of events were cancelled, the majority survived. The case of King George VI, who died on Wednesday February 6, 1952, is interesting. Football ran as usual the following weekend with crowds dutifully paying their respects. Boxing, a sport the King greatly admired, was also unaffected. Shows ran at Liverpool and West Ham the day after his passing while those scheduled for the following weekend went ahead as normal.

In September 2022, it was a different story. There was no order from the government to cancel sporting events and several, like cricket and rugby, did not. There should be no doubt that the BBB of C were left with a difficult, almost impossible, choice. Face the wrath of boxing fans for the decision they ultimately came to, or open themselves up to criticism from the rest of the country if a sport like boxing went ahead to a backdrop of national mourning.

The boxers, by and large, understood.

“I can’t praise the boxers enough,” said Smith. “They were all very professional and understood why we did what we did. As always, the boxers were a real credit to the sport.”

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