THE winner-takes-all showdown is at high noon today. The prize – the last place in Scotland’s boxing team for the Commonwealth Games.
Edinburgh’s Lewis Benson should be favourite to win the box-off for the 69-kilogram weight category box-off.
He beat Connor Law of Glenrothes in the Scottish Championships last month, and nothing has happened over the succeeding few weeks to suggest a change in form.
The fight is taking place behind closed doors at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, supposedly to lessen the external pressure on the two men. In reality, the circumstances of the box-off have heightened the tension, not only on Benson and Law, but on governing body Boxing Scotland themselves.
A points system has been used to select the team this year, with the aim of removing the subjective, human element from the process. But while that has worked smoothly in every other case, in this instance it has only fuelled controversy. It has been alleged Law has had favourable treatment due to funding received by the national body.
For Benson’s supporters, no box-off should be required given their man’s recent decisive victory over his opponent.
Terry McCormack, Benson’s coach at the Lochend club, has gone so far as to question the finality of today’s fight, suggesting that “If Lewis wins again we might as well make it the best of ten”. It has even been implied – though not, it should be said, by anyone in the Benson camp – that Boxing Scotland have bent over backwards to help Law because they receive financial support from his club.
Fraser Walker, chief operating officer of the governing body, roundly denied that implication, and said that if his organisation had erred slightly in favour of one man, it could be argued the man in question was Benson. “The Scottish Championships were not the be all and end all of selection, and everyone knew that for some time beforehand,” Walker said yesterday. “Although Benson won that particular fight, using the points system he would actually have been ranked below Law.
“So if we had been desperate to select Law, we could simply have done so with reference to the points system. But we are bending over backwards to be fair. All along this has been about selecting the best boxer, and about giving ourselves the best possible chance of winning medals at the Games. I can guarantee we have shown no favouritism to anyone.
“All our member clubs have to pay an annual affiliation fee of £200, and Glenrothes have done that like all the others. We have no knowledge of any other monetary donation from the club, or from Stevie McGuire, their head coach.
“I do remember a suggestion some time ago that Mr McGuire might donate some money to our talent-identification programme – I think the idea was that if we put some money in, he would match it. But that never came about.”
There is an argument that, given the controversial circumstances, justice should be seen to be done, and that the box-off should be open to a number of independent observers even if it is closed to the spectators who would pay to see it. But Walker’s argument is this has to be about boxing, with no distractions.
“There are five neutral judges, all from outside Scotland. The boxers and their coaches will be there, but no crowd, and no journalists.”
Details will be published on the Boxing Scotland website today, soon after the fight ends.