Boxing: Amateur gyms tarnished by corporate tragedy

In the heart of South Auckland, up to 50 teenagers and young adults are training hard on their Friday night, in a humble, but decorated gym above the Papatoetoe Clubrooms.

Old photos and banners from competitions across the world decorate the walls, and a proud Joseph Parker is among them.

This was where the champion started his famed career, but more importantly, it's a second home for so many aspiring amateur boxers.

"It's like my dream," young fighter Levi Wallbank-Mullia says. "I don't want to miss a day of it - it's what makes me happy."

The gym has a waiting list of more than 100 boys and girls, but like many amateur boxing gyms across the country, it's under threat.

The tragic death of family man Kain Parsons during a corporate charity event in Christchurch this month has prompted the New Zealand Medical Association to call for a ban on all boxing.

Their call has put the sport and its practices under publicly scrutiny, and Boxing New Zealand is outraged.

The national body says the bad practices in corporate boxing are jeopardising the good work of clubs across the country - and that includes Grant Arkell's Papatoetoe Boxing Gym.

Arkell agrees with the proposed ban on corporate boxing and he's quick to point out that you won't find any corporate hopefuls at his gym.

"I get guys coming [in] here - middle-aged men - that aren't fit enough to climb [the stairs to my gym], wanting to fight in 3-4 weeks' time – I just turn them away."

The fighters at Arkell's gym will train for a year or more, learning discipline and defence techniques, before they're allowed in the ring. In corporate boxing, fighters will often spar on the first day, he says.

Boxing New Zealand has distanced itself from the corporate scene, declaring that the sport at amateur and professional level doesn't compare.

Boxers of all ages
Boxers of all ages and sizes work out at the Papatoetoe Boxing Gym. Photo credit: Newshub.

"Amateur boxing should never be lumped in with the unregulated corporate and gym-bunny boxing that has established itself around the country, nor the professional code," Boxing New Zealand stated.

It says this isn't the first time the sport of amateur boxing has come under threat and it's urging people to familiarise themselves with the sport, before they jump to conclusions.

"You'll destroy all these kids," Arkell says. "It changes them and unless you get involved in it, you don't realise how it changes a kid."

One of Arkell's current amateur fighters is Tane Tautalanou, who says he got into boxing to stay focused.

"I grew up… being through a rough childhood, I can say, like in primary [school]… boxing just helped me build my confidence."

Arkell admits it’s been hard to keep the gym running. The kids pay $10 a week to train and that doesn't cover even a third of the rent.

"You put on a corporate tournament and you'll get every corporate business getting behind it," he says. "You put on an amateur tournament and you get kids off the street, and [sponsors] don't wanna know about it.”

And it's funding that has forced the closure of many gyms - and kids' second homes - across the country.

"I'm disappointed," Arkell says. "Some kids here… I've trained their dads and their uncles - it's like a family thing and they keep coming back."

Tautalanou says of Arkell: "He's like a second dad, no doubt he's a second dad.

"He's there when we're down, he's there when we're up. I'll never leave him, eh, he's everything to me… and to all of us."