Dave Harris, head of U.K. charity Ringside Charitable Trust, has all but given up on key figures from the sport coming forward to help the cause. 

When he had the idea of setting up a residential home for ex-boxers back in 2017, the former boxer, trainer, manager and promoter reasonably assumed that the entire industry would not only back his plans but also assist with them.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The wall of silence is still bewildering to a man who has dedicated much of his life to boxing, with much of the last 20 years to ex-boxers.

Alongside his significant work for the Ex-Boxers Association (EBA) he set up the British Boxing Hall of Fame to ensure those from yesteryear were not forgotten. He discovered that far too many were damaged by the sport. Yet what Harris noticed was how positively they responded when encouraged to talk about their careers or when surrounded by others from the sport. 

“That vacant look would go away,” Harris tells BoxingScene about the roots of his charity. “I remember taking [former European bantamweight champion] Johnny Clark out for the day and taking him to a boxing event. It was like he came alive again for those few hours. Then I had to take him back and he begged to come home with me. I cried that night.”

One of the most unsung of all heroes in British boxing, Harris has nonetheless made significant progress with a small team, achieving registered charity status within 18 months and going on to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds. The charity has already helped countless families but desperately needs a reliable revenue stream. 

He has suggested the implementation of a scheme into which every boxer earning over a certain amount would pay an annual tax-refundable fee. Adding an optional extra fee to ticket prices is another.

But Harris, now 78 years old, is as tired of asking the powerbrokers to show their support as he is embarrassed by their failure to do so. He’s a proud, determined man and there are only so many messages he’s willing to send without reply.

Harris even went as far as saying he feels like he’s wasted the last five years of his life on the project because the home, in which those ex-boxers in need would receive round the clock care, is still some way from fruition. The implementation of sustainable infrastructure that ensures the sport always helps its own remains his long-term goal.

Momentarily despondent he might be, but he isn’t going to give up. 

The signs are good that notable national companies – who have nothing whatsoever to do with boxing – are willing to invest in RCT. 

“I always thought it would be those in boxing that would be able to get this off the ground but it’s influential people on the outside who can take us forward,” Harris says with a mixture of optimism and disappointment. 

BOXXER made a significant one-off donation last year and several UK small hall promoters have also contributed. Yet most of the funds have thus far come from charity events and appeals to the public. 

Harris now accepts he was naïve to expect the industry’s most influential figures to unite and support his plan.

“I haven’t heard a word from any of them,” Harris sighs. “I understand it, to an extent, because they have businesses to run and their own interests in boxing to protect. I’ve long thought the biggest problem, from the point of view of the promoters, is that by helping us they are admitting that the sport can cause damage.”

It’s certainly curious why so many in boxing are willing to help charitable causes yet so few help the one that is designed purely to help boxers. 

Harris reels off a list of names of ex-boxers who are starting to show signs of serious damage from boxing. Two are household names in Britain, the rest would be known to hardcore fight fans of a certain age. Then he tells me the names of the families who have reached out for help, who have nowhere else to turn. This occurs every time we meet. New names, new casualties, same old story.

“The biggest misconception comes from the mouths of boxers who retire in their 30s when they talk about getting out of the sport unscathed. That isn’t when their problems start though is it? 

“Boxing saves lives, and I’ve seen what it’s done for so many. It’s a great sport, one that I have no desire to see hurt and that’s why I’m doing this. I don’t want to see the sport accused of not looking after its own. But it’s inevitable that some will take too many punches that will affect them further down the line. We need to accept that and put plans in place.”

Some have suggested it’s not up to others to help the boxers. 

“You made your bed, so you lie in it, kind of thing, and I understand that,” Harris conceded. “But is that the attitude in other sports? We have to remember that some boxers weren’t educated on how to make their bed in the first place. They think they’re going to be invincible forever, they think the money will keep rolling in and the friends they make at the top will always be there. 

“And most of all they rarely believe that boxing is going to damage their brains in the future. That’s where the education really needs to start, not only to the fighters but also to those who are staging fights involving boxers who have already taken a lot of punishment.”

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