The tragic fate that befalls some professional boxers when they hang up the gloves has been well-documented.
In the absence of the rigorous structure of training, many struggle mentally. Without the roar of the crowd or thumping beat of the music in the gym, their own thoughts become louder, to the point of being intrusive.
Too often, boxing is all they have ever known. When they can no longer do it, meaningful employment can be hard to come by.
The people who came along for the ride to the top are nowhere to be seen, they are busy attaching themselves to the next crop of disposable heroes.
This is not a new problem; it is as old as the sport itself. While some have attempted to address the issue, their endeavours have ultimately been unsuccessful.
However, Henry Foulkes and Kenny Pearce are determined to succeed where others failed, with the formation of the Professional Boxers’ Affiliation. The politics graduates hope to establish the PBA as the main representative body for professional boxers in Britain.
This ambitious undertaking begun in October of last year when the pair decided to act on a conversation they had several years previously.
With a keen interest in the sport, bolstered by Pearce’s brother having competed as an amateur, they are passionate about making a change for the better. Despite possessing a degree of knowledge about the sport, they were surprised to discover how inadequate the support available to boxers is at present.
“I was very shocked,” Foulkes told Boxing Social. “Other than Ringside Rest and Care, there’s not anything that really helps retired or current boxers. They have their own individual management companies that look after them but considering it’s a model widely used in every other sport, for boxing not to have anything, I found that very shocking.”
While there may be a dearth of services at the disposal of boxers just now, the PBA has a plan to change that. The PBA aims to assist boxers throughout every stage of their career by offering wide-ranging services, covering areas such as: financial planning, mental wellbeing and the transition into retirement.
To ensure the mental health of their future members, the PBA has signed up to the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation. As part of their commitment to mental wellbeing they will provide 24/7 access to hotlines, as well as arranging counselling sessions with the help of their partner Cognacity. The PBA also hopes to be able to educate boxers on the causes of mental health issues.
To enable boxers to live a full life beyond the ropes they have partnered with Life After Professional Sport, which will provide fighters with a pathway into a second career by providing access to workshops, personal development and personal retirement guides.
Due to the finite nature of a career in boxing the PBA believes it is vital to help fighters to prepare for the future and, as such, have aligned themselves with various financial planners to ensure members will receive the best possible advice. They also aim to put a pension scheme in place. The scheme will be funded by the revenue the PBA hopes to receive from broadcast deals. The Professional Boxers’ Affiliation Pension Scheme will then delegate money into members’ individual pension plans based on how many scheduled rounds they have competed in.
As Foulkes stated, while such measures seem revolutionary in boxing, they are commonplace in other sports. As such, Foulkes and Pearce have received advice and backing from representative bodies in other disciplines.
“A lot of [our partners] have come from other association bodies; the PFA in football, the PCA in cricket, the PJA [in horse racing], who we’ve spoken to quite a lot,” Foulkes said. “They are happy and willing to share their partners and set up conversations, because our company model is based on the three I’ve just mentioned. We have managed to build partnerships with a lot of their partners; for mental health it is Sporting Chance and Cognacity, they provide counselling services, but also prevention measures to sportsmen and women. A lot of the other associations work with them, so we’ve managed to do that, likewise with the financial advisors and career transition charities.”
Currently, the PBA is not able to take on members as they are yet to secure the funding they require to offer the package of support they intend to have available for fighters. Their first action, once their income reaches the minimum requirement of the Charities Act 2006, is to establish a charitable arm, The Professional Boxers’ Affiliation Trust, which will give the donated money to amateur gyms and act as a benevolent fund for members and their families. To make this possible, the PBA are currently running a campaign to gain the attention of the main stakeholders within the sport. Anyone interested in supporting the PBA can help raise awareness by tweeting using the hashtag #PBALaunch or can support the organisation with a donation which can be made through their website.
Although they are not currently accepting members, they are working closely with professional fighters. Joe Hughes, Chris Billam-Smith and Kieran Gething all sit on the board. Foulkes and Pearce hope to add more passionate individuals to the board in the coming months.
They may not have the funding they require in place yet, but Foulkes and Pearce have a clear vision of how they will obtain it.
“We are getting there,” Foulkes said. “We’ve got a few ideas of how we want to get it, so we are in the process of setting up a charitable arm at the moment to get possible donations and grants through that way. We are also looking at sponsorships from companies that already work in boxing, companies like: Under Armour or Lucozade. They throw a lot of money into the sport at the highest level, so the idea is to try to get it filtered down to the lower levels. We are also looking at broadcasting deals, which will probably be the last to come. A lot of the other association bodies are funded through a percentage of broadcasting deals. That’s one thing we want to go after, eventually, but obviously, we are not at that stage, yet. It’s a bit cliché but, if you are building a house, you have to put the foundations in first. I think at the moment, we have that. Then it’s about building on what we’ve already put in place by raising awareness and support.”
With a solid foundation and a plan, Foulkes and Pearce are confident that they can grow the PBA into a significant force for good within UK boxing in the next 18 months. If they can secure the financial backing they require, they will be able to provide support for fighters going forward.
“The long-term overall [goal] would be to have the same amount of influence and services in place to help like the PFA do in football,” Foulkes said. “From the moment they turn professional, through the rest of their lives be able to support them by providing financial advice, mental wellbeing and career transition. The timeframe is, hopefully, sooner, rather than later. It is very apparent that something like this is needed in boxing, but it is very reliant on funding. We’ve spoken to the [British Boxing Board of Control] and they are willing to support us and back it. By the end of the year, myself and Kenny, would really like to have a few boxers as members of the PBA and in 2022 we can really establish ourselves as a body that’s here to stay and here to help.”