How do authorities harness the enthusiasm and passion to make these community boxing bouts safer without taking the element of fun out of it?

This was the question posed by Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis when asked to share his thoughts on the sudden increase in unofficial boxing bouts in some local communities in the height of a pandemic.

For the past month, viral videos showing young men punching it out in makeshift rings have been the hype of social media. So much so, even soca artistes and other entertainers have also jumped in on the craze “calling out” and challenging others to step into the ring for a mini-bout.

Since the pandemic hit in mid-March last year, sports, particularly contact sports, remain banned to curb the spread of covid19.

Of recent, these unofficial boxing bouts have been drawing scores of people to varying locations to catch a glimpse of the action.

But the majority of spectators are seen without masks and not practising social distancing; thus making these events a possible recipe for a covid19 super spreader event.

While there may be athletic merit in it, Lewis believes they should not be seen solely or only as a source of boxing talent. According to him, it’s much more than that.

“How much does it have to do with a little boredom or looking for an activity to do? The fact that you have youth and young people prepared to hit it out. You have to see it for what it is. It is part of the covid19 fatigue that they have to find alternative activities and they’re boxing.

“That alone provides a signal and opportunity. The challenge that the authorities will now face is how do we harness that enthusiasm and passion and make it safer but not take the element of fun out of it,” he said.

Some people pass time by reading a book, watching television, using the computer or even going outdoors. But with beaches, rivers and even recreational contact sports still prohibited owing to government regulations, Lewis sees these bouts as one way for people to relax with a new form of “entertainment”.

Putting structure to these events by adding referees and other elements may defeat its purpose.

“The challenge is to be able to harness it but even though you’re (intent on) putting structure to it, it’s about making it safe fun. I would use the word safe sparring.

“The formalistic structure with a referee and other necessities, I don’t know whether this is an activity at this point in time. It also requires engagement of the community stakeholders,” he added.

Sea Lots is one of the communities which has embraced and may have even started these random boxing matches. On Sunday however, a team of police from the Port of Spain Division arrested six people for being part of the unofficial event.

The police even traded fire with someone who they say shot in their direction while making these arrests on Sunday.

On September 14, the Boxing Board of Control (TTBBC) said that boxing contests must be regulated by the board and may only take place under strict protocols that ensure competitor safety, supervised by trained, certified practitioners.

“Those protocols also require, in part, the presence of trained medical personnel during the contest, medical examination of competitors before and after each contest, and the notification to the district police station that an event is to be held,” said the TTBBC in a statement.

Additionally, Keith Scotland, MP for Port of Spain South, and boxing promoter Boxu Potts both see positives in the initiative in Sea Lots. Both however, were against the flouting of government’s covid19 regulations during these bouts.

Lewis added, “This is not a case where the boxing board and associations could just rush in and say that we need to apply rules and structure to this because you may not get the same response.

“Don’t put aside the fact that this also has elements of fun and breaking the rules a little bit. It’s more complex than just simply saying all these youths are interested and you can do talent identification.

“I am saying that you cannot approach it necessarily from that straight ‘tick your box’ framework. You have to embrace and engage the community. And whoever it is that is responsible because it’s community oriented.”

The TTOC president said that the temptation should be resisted to just apply rules and regulations and not identify, in communication and dialogue, what are the motivators.

“You might be trying to provide solutions and you don’t know what the problem is. But it’s also a signal from the ground up that we need to look seriously at how to get covid19-safe sports back up and running.

“How do we create safe zones for sport? How to be creative in coming up with counter measures that achieve the purpose of Ministry of Health and the public health authorities while engaging sporting activity,” he said.

Lewis added that authorities should acknowledge the innovation and creativity that fuels these activities but not undervalue the anti-authority and anti-establishment of it.

He said that it doesn’t matter what area or part of the country you come from because children, youth and young people love to play.

“I look at it is more organised play rather than organised sport. The questions is, are the authorities open minded enough to resist the temptation to see it purely as organised sport, in this case, organised boxing?

“I don’t necessarily think that. I believe that if you approach it from the perspective of organised sport, whether you would be able to capture that zeitgeist. You also have to be mindful that there is a significant measure of control,” he closed.