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14x Irish National Boxing Champion Evelyn Igahro Speaks Out On Racism In Ireland

The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police in Minneapolis has caused an outpouring of anger and protests around the world. George Floyd, and the countless number of black men and women before him, have lost their lives for no reason other than the colour of their skin.

This is not a new phenomenon. It is only that now, thanks to camera phones and social media, the wider world is bearing witness to the horrors that black people face.

In Dublin, over 5,000 people gathered the streets on Monday afternoon, to support the Black Lives Matter movement. The tragic events across the Atlantic Ocean has sparked the conversation into life in Ireland and it is time to step up and show our solidarity and support – to listen, to learn and to act.

Black Lives Matter Protest
Dublin protest at the GPO protesting over the death of George Floyd. (Photo: Mark Condren)

19-year old Evelyn Igharo is a star in the making. The Dundalk Clann Naofa boxer won her fourteenth national title earlier this year and claimed silver at the European Youth Championships in 2018. Igharo became the youngest ever Elite 64kg National champion and her clubs first ever National champion. 

Now, Igharo has a simple message and it goes far beyond the realms of the boxing ring. 

A few days ago, Igharo put down her skipping rope for a different cause. She supported a socially distanced protest in her hometown of Dundalk under the Black Lives Matter banner. 

The fourteen-time champion said, “Racism happens here. It’s not as aggressive as it is in America, it happens here though. People are racist. They call you names behind your back.” 

Igharo vividly recalls a time when the name-calling escalated. Under the iconic lights of the National Stadium in Dublin, the boxing star who is tipped to become a world-champion, sustained vile abuse from the crowd that prompted her coach to turn from his work in the corner and yell back at the crowd. 

“I was boxing for an Irish title, it was a close fight. It started with booing, they booed me and then saying Black Witch and all sorts of names. I could hear them really loudly”, she said. 

Igharo says her own gym and the Irish Athletic Boxing Association have been supportive. But it is up to individuals to police their behaviour, she says, adding that male friends have experienced more physical racism, including from the Garda Siochana. 

She has one simple message: “Don’t discriminate against others based on their race, just get talking to them. Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

The young boxer is hopeful for the future, saying there is relatively less racist behaviour now than her parents experienced when they first immigrated from Nigeria. 

She says: “I feel like my generation is better. I am so happy about that, that the younger generation is definitely thinking in a new way, our generation is better than the past. I hope they will be more accepting towards other people.” 

World Championships Boxing 2018
Déarbhla Rooney (far left) with Dean Clancy, Jude Gallagher, Evelyn Igharo, Daina Moorehouse and Lauren Kelly at the Team Ireland homecoming from the European youth boxing championships. (Photo: INPHO/Ryan Byrne)

Fighting out of Clann Naofa boxing club in Dundalk, Igharo started training aged eight. With encouragement from her father and coach Jim O’ Neill, she has never looked back. Her first national title came in the 44 – 46kg division, and she moved up the ranks. Taking medals as she went. 

Igharo says: “I miss being in the ring, I was watching back videos of sparring even, I miss it so much. I have zero motivation; I’m not training at all really. I go running for myself, that’s it.” 

Training starts back next week; she’s excited and dreading the fitness shock. She says: “When he holds pads, he would be at me for not keeping my guard up. So, to be hit in the face it will be back to reality.”  

For now, her focus is on getting ready for competition whenever that might be. She was targeting the EUBC U-22 European Boxing Championships. However amateur boxing in Europe is suspended until July 31st

Competitive to a tee, she spends a few minutes picking over one final she lost to Katelynn Phelan in 2016. The second time the pair faced-off Igharo made good that loss, taking the win on points. She is pretty pleased about that. Phelan has since turned pro. 

Studying Health and Physical Activity at Dundalk IT, she is hoping COVID19 won’t keep her out of the classroom. It is not a programme which lends itself to staying at home. But really all Igharo wants is the chance to get back in the ring again as soon as it is safe. 

Evelyn Igharo Jim O'Neill
Boxing Coach and founding member of Clann Naofa Boxing Club, Jim O'Neill, thinks Igharo has what it takes to become a world champion. (Photo: Hugh Russell - Twitter: russellhugh1 / Irish News)

Niamh Griffin (IG: @realgirlsport)

Niamh Griffin is a sports journalist who previously competed in MuayThai. Niamh has a huge passion for sports and is keen share the stories of women in sport to inspire the future generation. Instagram: @realgirlsport

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