In light of the recent reaction to both BBC and ITV employing female pundits for the football, in 2018 no less, we turn our eye to the boxing equivalent. Whether you agree with Simon Kelner and his i News piece or not, there is certainly an issue with punditry in sport. For most though it has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with ability.
I use the word ability rather than knowledge because there is a significant difference in knowing about the sport in question and being able to talk succinctly about it. Plenty of football (and boxing) pundits have vast experience but can’t verbalise their wisdom in anything other than clichés and soundbites.
Personally, I do partly agree with Kelner that the broadcasters have made the decision to employ women as a token that they are moving with the times. This is a good thing though. We need to progress. Gender makes no difference to me as a viewer who is talking about sport, so long as they offer something resembling interesting insight. And this is where my main issue lies. For too long now, this has not been the case. Pundits are under no pressure to perform. There is no accountability in punditry. Even if there was how would it ever be enforced? Watching sport is highly subjective. This means that viewers will have differing opinions. There is often no right or wrong answer. Many pundits make outlandish statements, seemingly in a bid to get noticed, and when they are proven wrong nothing comes of it. Predictions are made but they seemingly hold no bearing on how pundits are judged. Generally, pundits are considered good by the people who agree with them. No more, no less.
This is not exclusive to boxing. Poor punditry is a sport-wide epidemic. What plagues boxing, seemingly more than most, is the ridiculous levels of bias within the sport. Toeing the company line is a very familiar trait that continues to grate on boxing fans. Whereas football pundits have no loyalty to the players (imagine Lawrenson or Shearer holding their tongue because they don’t want to offend Neymar for example), those commentating on boxing are normally somehow involved with those in the ring. As a hypothetical example, Paul Smith isn’t likely to criticise a flat Callum Smith performance. Football pundits don’t feel the need to protect the individuals involved as much.
TV broadcasters don’t need to protect the product either. Viewers know that the Premier League is the highest level of English football. And the teams that win the most in that league are at the top of the tree. Boxing isn’t so straight forward. Part of the Sky remit is to convince the viewers that Matchroom is the pinnacle of UK boxing. BoxNation / BT have the same task for the likes of Frampton, Fury, Yarde and Dubois. This pressure leads to good boxers being hyped beyond belief and likened to Ali, Hearns or Hagler. Sensational hype at best, downright lies designed to con the public at worst.
Boxing is an extremely tight fraternity, more so than any other sport. The combatants have a mutual respect that is entirely warranted. They put themselves through tribulations that a far beyond the normal man. Anyone who steps in the ring deserves immense respect. However, that doesn’t mean they should be immune to criticism or that the viewer should be protected from what is actually going on in the ring.
Two examples stick strongly in my mind. When Luke Campbell was on his way to losing his first professional bout, Sky asked his Olympic teammate Anthony Ogogo for his view on proceedings. Now, this is man who has been boxing for most of his life (dancing for some), who has travelled the world and won an Olympic Bronze medal for his country. He has seen more boxing first-hand than I ever will, yet he comfortably had his friend winning the fight. At the very least Campbell was in a tough fight and Yvan Mendy had taken several rounds. Does the fact that I scored it for Mendy, who won a split-decision, mean I know more about boxing than an Olympian? Probably not but I was more accurate in that instance. Sky also asked Ogogo on his view at the end, before the scores were read, and he said that he hoped Campbell got the nod. Even though Mendy deserved it. How can pundits expect to be taken seriously when they’re basically rooting for their pals? Anthony Fowler recently received criticism on social media for admitting he hoped that Maurice Hooker got robbed against Terry Flanagan.
A similar example was Matchroom promoted Scottish legend Ricky Burns on punditry duty for the Josh Taylor-Ohara Davies annihilation. And it was that. It was a one-sided beatdown in favour of Taylor (again my opinion). So, did Burns go way over the top in his praise of his fellow Scot? On the contrary, he described the fight as “close” which gave for more credit to his gym and stablemate Davies than was deserved. I imagine that he was acutely aware he would have to deal very closely with Davies following the fight and any derogatory comments may come back to haunt him. Or at least make things awkward in the gym.
This sort of “punditry” is largely why I don’t pay attention to what is said regarding fights. I prefer to watch with my own eyes and make up my own mind up about what is going on. I tend to check social media or get myself a drink in between fights (that’s a lot of drinking on the PPV shows!), rather than listen to the pundits. It seems pointless watching them and listening to their viewpoints when they all have an agenda and everything they say needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.
The same rings true for pre-fight build up. Why should I believe a trainer when he says a fighter is in the best shape of his life, coming off the back of his smoothest ever camp? That sort of stuff gets regurgitated week after week, month after month. Those involved are exactly that, involved. They are often too close to the action to offer an impartial, honest assessment.
So if trainers, boxers and promoters can’t be trusted who are boxing fans to turn to? My suggestion would be impartial Boxing Blogs. Maybe a British one…