Duncan Mackay

I confess a hand in the fate - good or bad – that has befallen Britain’s amateur boxing en route to 2012. A couple of years ago, when the multi-millionaire Midlands businessman Derek Mapp, who has made his fortune from, among other enterprises, the Tom Cobleigh pub chain, I introduced him to Paul King, a spiky Scouser who is chief executive of the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABA).

Mapp would have been the first to admit that what he knew about the noble art could have been scribbled on the back of a York Hall fight ticket. But he felt in his role as boss of the funding quango he should get acquainted with the workings of one of the nation’s most productive Olympic sports.

So I brought him together with King and accompanied the unlikely pair on a tour of several of London’s leading amateur clubs. It was for Mapp, you might say, the beginning of a glove affair which, somewhat astonishingly, now sees him in overall charge of the sport here.

For a bizarre turn of events followed that fistic expedition. Mapp, an ardent New Labour supporter, angrily walked out Sport England after a policy dispute with the then Culture Secretary James Purnell to resurface after the Beijing Olympics as chair of the freshly-constituted  umbrella body the British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA), set up by UK Sport to oversee Britain’s 2012 preparations. It was not long before Mapp was punching his weight, inflicting a controversial KO on Terry Edwards, the long-serving, highly successful and distinctly media-friendly head coach who also doubled as performance director. Edwards, who had delivered medals in every major championship sinc the 2000 Olympics, among them a first-ever world champion [Frankie Gavin] and three gongs in Beijing, including James DeGale’s gold, received his MBE and P45 almost simultaneously. Axing him was about as popular a move then as the BBC ditching the knowledgeable veteran Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips for the vacuous soubrette Alesha Dixon.

Even more controversially Mapp brought back the former coach of five Olympics, Kevin Hickey, at 67 two years older than Edwards and out of amateur boxing for 20 years, some of which were spent as a well-regarded technical director for the British Olympic Association, on a four-day week contract as performance director. Hickey immediately hired 60-year-old Kelvin Travis, once fired by the ABA after an altercation with a fellow instructor, as head coach for a squad depleted after the loss of six of the original Beijing “Great Eight” to the pros.

It wasn’t much of a surprise when the relatively raw British team returned medal-less from last month’s World Championships in Milan, especially as the main man Bradley Saunders was injured, but what was a shock was the resignation of Hickey after only eight months. Nothing to do with Milan, he insisted, but a workload that was impacting on his home life. "I was working seven days a week and at this stage of my life I was not prepared to do that," he said.

Understandably eyebrows have been raised – not least those of Edwards (pictured celebrating with DeGale in Beijing), now coaching at the Frank Bruno Academy in  Orpington a pro-am gym in East London and advising the Ghanaian Boxing Federation. He could be excused for musing that he managed to combine both jobs, achieving unprecedented results in return for the bullet, almost certainly fired because of the well-documented aggro between himself and King, who clearly had impressed Mapp on that fistic induction tour and seemed to have his ear.

Yet perversely it may well be that King’s influence on the sport, and Mapp, was as instrumental on the new PD’s decision to quit as Hickey wanting to spend more time with his family.

For I hear that Hickey had made it clear he could not come to terms with the revolutionary move by AIBA, the international governing body, to semi-professionalise the sport by introducing from next year a World Series team tournament that permits substantial prize money and three year contracts worth up to $300,000 (£182,400) while still allowing participants to compete in the Olympics. He believes it could distract and detract from the essential build-up to 2012. But King, a member of AIBA’s executive, is an enthusiastic backer of the scheme and has persuaded Mapp to support it as a proposed London leg could be commercially beneficial.

Amateur boxing’s current quest for cash is paramount, having to find the money to pay out-of-court settlements and costs to Edwards and Olympians DeGale and Tony Jeffries who issued a writs in connection promised post-Beijing bonus payments. Last year the ABA made a loss of £675,000, with overheads more than double the previous year, and  this weekend’s AGM is set to be fractious, with the verbal fists flying in all directions, not least that of Mapp’s BABA.

Meantime the redoubtable Mapp has set about restructuring the umbrella body again, scrapping the role of performance director (will paymasters UK Sport be happy about that?) and instead advertising for a “dynamic” a chief executive to replace him. The speculation is that King could combine this with his ABA function.

As the pace quickens towards 2012, we must hope that new-found fan Mapp has learned enough about the now mis-named amateur boxing and its-fighting to ride with any punches coming his way. He’ll need to box clever from now on.

Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist and boxing correspondent of The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics.